In an ordinary place, he found the one person to make his life extraordinary.
Gus Van Sant must have been smarting after remaking Hitchcock's masterpiece Psycho. Audiences and critics alike were not impressed with what turned out to be an inferior film than its predecessor. Too bad, as his film before Psycho was the acclaimed Good Will Hunting. Going back to the same style, Van Sant offered up the Sean Connery (First Knight, Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade) vehicle Finding Forrester. Also starring Academy Award-winners F. Murray Abraham (Amadeus), Anna Paquin (The Piano), and newcomer Rob Brown, Columbia Tristar scribbles out Finding Forrester on DVD for all the world to read…err, see.
Facts of the Case
Finding Forrester is the story of two people's search for the meaning of friendship. Connery plays William Forrester, a recluse author who wrote one of the great novels of our time. He now lives in a small apartment in the Bronx, spying on local kids and doing various other weird hermit things. His novel "Avalon Landing" is studied in schools all over, and Forrester is considered a genius, though "Avalon Landing" is the only book he ever published.
Jamal Wallace is a talented 16-year old who attends a public school and plays basketball on his off time. He is an average student, though his test scores prove that he is a tremendously gifted child. Soon a private school comes looking for Jamal, asking him to enroll in their school with a scholarship that rewards his basketball skills as well as his smarts. Jamal accepts, transferring into a much fancier atmosphere. There he meets new friends such as Claire (Paquin), and a new teaching adversary (Abraham).
Before enrolling, however, Jamal breaks into Forrester's apartment on a dare (unaware of Forrester's stature as a famous author). Through a twist of fate, Jamal and Forrester strike up a friendship that will take both of them on a journey of friendship, honor, and the arts.
Finding Forrester fits the bill if you're looking for an uplifting tale about friendship, life, and old books. I'm not sure I was looking for all of those things in one movie when I watched Finding Forrester, but that's what I got.
On a dramatic level, Finding Forrester is a nice film about people learning lessons and finding friendship in unexpected places. The characters in the film pontificate about their lives and what they should be doing while offering advice such as, "We walk away from our dreams, afraid that we may fail, or worse yet…afraid we may succeed." One character also says, "Women will sleep with you if you write a book." After this review, I will be starting the shortest novel in the history of literature.
Finding Forrester is a good movie, though not a great one. All the performances are fine, and the story is fairly interesting. Yet, Finding Forrester retains has a "been there, seen that" feel to it.
Sean Connery, in his fiftieth year of acting, sparkles as William Forrester, a role that almost seems tailor made for him. Like Tom Hanks and Kevin Spacey, Connery is interesting to watch in any film he does, be it great or mediocre. Finding Forrester finds a middle ground between those, though Connery's performance doesn't. He reminds us why at over sixty he is still a world-class superstar. The supporting cast, including Abraham, Paquin, and rap star Busta Rhymes are good, enhancing Connery's performance.
Newcomer Rob Brown as Jamal is also excellent, though not "the great one" the disc touts him to be. Aside of the back case reading "an incredible performance from talented newcomer Rob Brown," there is also a documentary about the discovery of Rob Brown. I think we may be going a bit overboard. Though a very good actor, Brown doesn't have the charisma of a Denzel Washington or Morgan Freeman (yeah, I know he's only sixteen, but if he were anymore low key he'd be humming).
The script by Mike Rich (a 1998 screenplay contest winner for the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences) reflects much of Good Will Hunting's spirit, and in fact could be considered a close cousin. The script usually stays on the road most taken, giving us the usual life lessons that a film like this feels it must give (there were so many "profound" sayings that I eventually lost track). In a world filled with horror and pain, Finding Forrester is certainly welcome. It's like a child having an ice cream cone after scraping his knee; it doesn't make a huge difference, but it satisfies for the moment.
Finding Forrester does serve the purpose of reminding us why we need friends in life. We see William Forrester as a lonely, bitter man holed up in his little Bronx apartment. When Jamal comes around, he finds that he doesn't know exactly how to handle the situation. After periods of talking and bonding, Jamal and William both learn about how to be a better friend, and live life to the fullest. Even in sugarcoated form, this is something we all can stand to hear.
Finding Forrester is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic. This is a new release, so the picture is expectantly excellent. Colors are bright and blacks are mostly solid, though some shots look a bit off (due in part to Van Sant's photography, not the Columbia transfer). Digital artifacting is kept at the bare minimum, and edge enhancement was non-existent. The usual well-done transfer by Columbia TriStar.
Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 and is used sparingly. This is not an effects laden film, so you'll not find much use for your rear speakers (until the Madison Square Garden's basketball scenes). Overall a fine mix, though the film neither suffers or exceeds because of it.
Finding Forrester features some bonus material that should enhance your knowledge of the film (hey, I'm trying to sound scholarly here). First up is an HBO Making-Of: Finding Forrester feature that includes interviews with cast and crew, as well as behind the scenes footage with insight into the production. This is the type of mini-documentary where sweeping, dramatic move-people-to-tears music plays over all the interviews and footage, as if to say "Hey! Look at this, we're making a sweeping, dramatic movie that will move people to tears!" It worked; I cried at the end of this featurette.
A featurette titled Rob Brown: Found is about the search and discovery of actor Rob Brown. Congratulations, he made a movie. Did we need a featurette about it? I think not. But if you're a 15-year-old girl who reads "Teen Beat," this might be of great interest to you.
Some deleted choir scenes are included, and they're…well, they're scenes of kids singing in the choir. 'Nuff said.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I did enjoy Finding Forrester, though found it much too long. The subplot between Jamal and Claire is really unnecessary, a love story that really doesn't go anywhere. The bulk of the story focuses on Forrester and Jamal, and should have stayed that way. Though Paquin is fine in her role, it's something the editing room should have scrapped.
My only other major complaint is the cheesy "Over The Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" song that is played over the end credits. Is it just me, or does this feel like it should be underscoring an insurance commercial instead?
Maybe it's just me.
If you're in the mood for something that will lift your spirits and make you want to go out (or stay in) and write the Great American Novel, Finding Forrester is your movie. The performances, the transfer, and the audio all get high marks. Though sometimes treading into sugar-sweet waters, this is still a good film to watch, and even better to see on a date (especially if you've written your own book). If you're a fan of Connery or drama with a message, the $20 price tag shouldn't put you back too much. Otherwise, it's time to hit the rental shelves.
You'll laugh! You'll cry! You'll want to visit your local library! Finding Forrester is a semi-winner and released back into society! Case dismissed!
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