"You like apples?"
"Well, I got her number! How do you like them apples?"
Good Will Hunting is a powerful film that is moving and is intelligently written (with dialogue that is occasionally brilliant), strongly directed, and nicely acted. So, while Good Will Hunting isn't quite a masterpiece, it's a very worthwhile piece of cinema. Rated at number 111 of IMDb's top 250 films of all time, I found it engrossing and believable. It was nominated for 9 and netted two Oscars, and was certainly deserving of one; Robin Williams' Best Supporting Actor nod was in recognition of a great performance and certainly his best one to date.
There are no less than three versions of this film on DVD; a movie-only release and a Collector's Edition from Miramax and Buena Vista, and a Canadian release from Alliance, who has our northern neighbor's distribution rights to it. All were made from the same master and soundtrack, though only our Canadian friends get an anamorphic transfer. My review disc is the Miramax CE disc, and I will review it accordingly while mentioning the differences between it and the preferred Alliance version. This one has a very nice if not spectacular transfer and an excellent soundtrack and collection of extras.
There isn't much I don't like about this film. The story has a feeling of authenticity throughout and very well-developed characters, many moving and some humorous scenes, superb dialogue, and while somewhat predictable never disappointed me as the plot developed. All topped off by a wonderful Danny Elfman Oscar nominated score; while it's not instantly recognizable as such you simply can't go wrong with him handling your musical needs in a film. The performances from a very strong cast have few flaws and many flashes of brilliance. The story centers mainly on one or two characters but several supporting roles are nearly as strong; making it almost an ensemble piece. Gus Van Sant (Drugstore Cowboy, To Die For) does a fantastic, somewhat restrained job with his direction and is by far his best effort.
The story is part coming of age film, and part slice of life. Will Hunting (Matt Damon, Saving Private Ryan, Dogma, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a complex young man. On one level he's just another lower income boy from "Southie" (the rough neighborhoods of South Boston) hanging out with his friends and getting drunk while shifting from one blue collar job to another. On another apparent level he's a genius; in fact that word might be inadequate to describe his level of intelligence that rivals that of Nobel laureates in several fields. He's perhaps the penultimate underachiever; preferring his simple life with his friends to using his considerable gifts for anything other than the exigencies of the moment. On his deepest level he's a very troubled person; an orphan who suffered horrendous physical and mental abuse from several foster families growing up. Besides his lack of ambition this terrible start in life exhibits itself in a hair trigger temper, which results in frequent fighting and a long rap sheet for assault. Among the more humorous scenes is when a judge reveals how often he has used his genius to get acquittals or dismissals from his many trials using obscure 18th century precedents.
Will's current job is as a janitor at our country's pre-eminent technical university MIT. Never having pursued a degree, he quickly shows his superior intellect by anonymously solving complex problems left on a blackboard by award winning mathematician Gerald Lambeau, a university celebrity. The first problem was meant to take his upper level students much of the semester; Will solves it overnight. The second was a challenge; one that took several professors two years to solve; again Will takes one day. Lambeau (played with depth and conviction by Stellan Skarsgard, Deep Blue Sea, Ronin, My Son the Fanatic) catches Will in the act with the second problem, but the boy flees and has to be tracked down. By the time the professor finds him, he's in jail after the latest judge won't listen to his arguments since this time he's struck a cop. With the professor's intervention; Will has a deal: he can be released on conditions that he spend one day a week with Lambeau doing math, and one day weekly with a therapist. Seeing it as his only option to doing time, he agrees.
Unfortunately Will is smarter than his therapists, and makes fools of the first five who all quit after one session. As a last resort, Lambeau seeks out his old college roommate, who has a great deal in common with young Will. Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, Jakob the Liar, Mrs. Doubtfire, Bicentennial Man) is a psychologist that apparently is also a big underachiever; teaching at a junior college even though Lambeau mentions that Sean is even smarter than he is. To top that off, Sean is from the same neighborhood as Will and can understand how he grew up.
The therapy starts off rocky, but Sean doesn't give up. In the meantime the romantic interest of the story is introduced in the person of Skylar, a Harvard pre-med played by Minnie Driver (Grosse Pointe Blank, Princess Mononoke, Goldeneye) in an Oscar nominated performance. Another scene in which Will shows off his intellect and incredible memory puts a grad student in his place and introduces the pair. The line in The Charge follows, one of my favorite quotes from the film.
After waiting him out, Sean finally wears down Will's resistance and a rapport begins. Both learn from the other during the therapy sessions, and the ending is hardly in doubt.
Despite some predictability, there was a great journey to get to the end. The scenes with Damon and his buddies, two of whom were played by the Affleck brothers Casey and Ben (Dogma, Shakespeare in Love, Armageddon) were full of humor and had a real feel for the people of that time and place. I truly believed in the friendship and loyalty between the two, which in fact wasn't faked at all. The relationship between Minnie Driver and Matt Damon didn't need to be faked either, as the film led to a real romantic link. Stellan Skarsgard was utterly convincing as a professor facing up to his own limitations in the face of once in a generation genius. But truly the film's best performance goes to Robin Williams, who didn't have an overly sanctimonious moment such as in some of his lesser works, and played it serious throughout. His depth of character, emotions and dialogue made the film move up several notches in quality by himself. He was deserving of his Oscar without a doubt in my mind.
Even before I'd heard of the superior Alliance release of this disc, I was pretty impressed. The 1.85:1 transfer was excellent, even though this version is non-anamorphic. Black level, color saturation and fleshtones are all perfect; the amber colors radiate golden hues, while the rest of the colors are rich and vivid. Some grain is evident, but that is the fault of the original print, and there are few to no nicks, blips, or other film defects. There are a few problems with the transfer but I'll discuss them below. Of course the biggest problem is that the transfer is non-anamorphic, while the Canadian release is 16 X 9 enhanced, and has the extra resolution for you widescreen owners and future ones, which is most of you.
The English Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is identical on all three releases, and it's very good. There are no flaws; only that it is a dialogue-driven film makes it other than reference quality. While you won't use it to show off your sound system, it does an excellent job of creating an ambiance and matches dialogue levels to the rest of the sound effectively. Dynamic range is not sacrificed for the clarity of dialogue, and the moving Elfman score deepens the soundstage to all four other channels. Other uses of surrounds are subtle; and there is no hiss or other noise problem to distract. There are no other language options on my review disc, but the Alliance release also has a 5.1 French track.
There is a very nice assortment of extras in this Collector's Edition disc. The biggest of them is the feature length commentary track from director Gus Van Sant and co-writers/actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. The track is very well done, and better organized than many multi-speaker tracks. They showed the great affection for each other and the film, while providing a lot of inside and behind the scenes information. I was a bit surprised by how much credit they gave young Casey Affleck for his performance, which seemed better in retrospect. The next-biggest extra is 11 deleted scenes with director commentary you can switch on and off. A production featurette with cast interviews and a lot of film clips is very nice, if a bit heavy on said clips. Another behind the scenes featurette shows the film from behind the camera and shows some other scenes not used. It was uninformative yet still satisfying. The theatrical trailer is shown in full frame and 17, yes count-em 17 TV spots, an Academy Awards Best Picture montage, and a music video for "Miss Misery" from the film complete the extra content.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have little to complain about, as I said. As far as the script goes there are a couple things to mention. Perhaps the hardest thing to write is a character smarter than yourself. It is easy to write below your intellectual level but much harder to write above it. This was the task given in this film, and on a few rare occasions Will doesn't seem quite the genius he does in most scenes. I'm not really counting off here. What I do have to mention though is there is a controversy over who is really responsible for the Oscar winning screenplay. Certainly Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the first draft and were involved in subsequent ones, and were the Oscar recipients for it. But William Goldman has claimed he was responsible for how it turned out in the end in a recent book, and there has been a cloud over who is truly the person who should have won. Not that this changes who should have won, but one really nice diatribe against the NSA that Damon's character spouts sounds very reminiscent of Kevin Smith (Chasing Amy, Dogma) who was an executive producer on the film. I'm not saying he wrote the script, but its certainly possible he had his hand in it. None of this is important to my review which finds nothing worth mentioning wrong with the film itself.
So far as the disc goes, only in two areas do I find something independently wrong. The first is the $40 price tag which is simply too high even for a nice one disc special edition. Other than that, my only complaint is the transfer. Not only is it not anamorphic, but there are a sprinkling of artifacts and jagged edges, along with a bit of ringing. None of it is pervasive or extremely noticeable but it does come up now and then. The rest of my complaints are only in comparison to the Canadian version of the disc from Alliance. Not only is it anamorphic, but it contains one more deleted scene, cast and crew info, and an extra trailer in French. None of these extra bonuses are worth that much, but for the anamorphic transfer and few more extras, how much extra do you pay? Negative 10 bucks. That's right; the superior Canadian release is also $10 cheaper.
*Rant mode on*…Sometimes I think the studios think we're just stupid. Yes, we're fortunate to be in the US; we have the greatest number of title choices and greater availability. But so often I find out about a Canadian or overseas release that is superior to the US one. Oftentimes you find anamorphic transfers overseas while we have to settle for non, and bare bones discs here have extras there. Even our latest home theater fiasco, which could be an article all by itself, is the story of filmmaker George Tuccus (name changed to protect the guilty) who gives us a crappy VHS version of a film I won't mention but gives a laserdisc to Japan, and denies the world a DVD version that would be superior. *Rant mode off*
Good Will Hunting is a great movie. It has a fair amount of swearing otherwise I'd say it was great for the whole family. The R rating is for adult situations and language rather than really bad violence or sexuality. The transfer of this US disc is very good overall, though with a few problems I mentioned above. Excellent sound and extras round out a great package for purchase. Still, if you can find the Canadian release (still Region 1, and DVD Depot is a site selling it, among others) I heartily recommend it. This collectors edition is still worthwhile, and I'd still be recommending it if the Canadian one hadn't been made. Since it was made though, buy that one.
All involved with the making of Good Will Hunting, whether given full credit or not, are commended and released. Robin Williams should be required to watch this film again whenever he is tempted to moralize and get sanctimonious in another picture so as to reign in that ill-advised impulse. Disney is to be commended on a fine disc but for *insert name of deity here*'s sake look at what Alliance did with the same film! It's time to lower the US price and re-issue with the anamorphic transfer.
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