Judge Steve Power went hunting for overrated Oscar bait. Instead he found only goodwill.
Some people can never believe in themselves, until someone believes in them.
Good Will Hunting epitomizes the Hollywood Cinderella story; Writers Ben Affleck and Matt Damon would win Oscars for the screenplay and go on to become megastars, Robin Williams would re-brand himself as a worthy dramatic actor (and net a statue of his own) , and director Gus Van Sant would become a critically lauded voice in drama filmmaking. Lionsgate returns to the film with a Blu-Ray double dip to celebrate its 15th anniversary, but is this a trip to the well worth taking?
Facts of the Case
Will (Matt Damon, The Bourne Identity) is a blue-collar Boston janitor eking out an existence by mopping floors at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard, Thor) discovers Will's incredible comprehension of advanced mathematics, he pushes Will to use his gift, to take advantage of his own abilities. Will's troubled past leads him to Professor of Psychology Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, Good Morning, Vietnam), a man with his own troubles. Torn between a new life in academia and his old friends and their blue-collar existence, it's going to take a little goodwill (pardon the pun) to get things right.
It was difficult to avoid the hype surrounding Good Will Hunting during the late '90s. It was an awards darling, one of many to emerge from Miramax's golden age, a star-making turn for best friends/writers/leads Ben Affleck and Matt Damon, and a much discussed hit. I remember it being a film that everyone who ran in film-fan circles absolutely HAD to see, and I remembered my first viewing being rather enjoyable. Then something weird happened in the decade or so after the film's release, the public seemed to turn on Good Will Hunting. The word "overrated" got kicked around quite a bit, and people started pointing fingers at now megastars Ben and Matt, accusing them of not having even written the film. Even Robin Williams took quite a few lumps for the role that won him an Oscar. Youtubers love posting the scene where Williams comes clean about his wife while Damon sniggers in the background as though he's on helium. I won't waste this review defending the picture, suffice it to say, the detractors are full of hot air.
For those of you who haven't seen Good Will Hunting, Damon and Affleck deserve every bit of praise for their Oscar winning screenplay. The dialog never feels anything but true, with a real "lived in" aesthetic that blends well with the authentically recreated setting of south Boston. Will's evolution throughout the film never feels like the sort of trite movie magic we come to expect from these films, he's not perfect, he's a broken human being, and he's not always painted in a sympathetic light. Will's group of friends, played by Ben Affleck, Cole Hauser (Pitch Black) and Casey Affleck (The Killer Inside Me) also feel universally real, with Ben delivering a particularly solid performance. The supporting cast succeeds just as well, with Robin Williams delivering the most heartfelt and "dialed in" performance of his career (even the "farting wife" scene plays brilliantly when taken in the context of the film). The final bits of the film, particularly a heart-wrenchingly cathartic scene between Damon and Williams, and another great moment between Damon and Ben, are just two fine examples of effective payoff, and wonderful work from creative people at the top of their game.
Van Sant directs the material with a veteran's skill. Absent are many of the artsy self-indulgences one might expect from this sort of film, instead leaving a lean, tightly edited exercise in immersion. This is a gripping bit of cinema. If Good Will Hunting doesn't manage to pull you in, I think the blame rests squarely on you rather than on the film itself. Rarely does a film manage to combine every element to such an effective end result, but the ingredients are all there. It really is one of the best dramatic efforts to come along in quite some time, every minute deserving of the credit the film has received. If there was ever a time where the "overrated" tag felt more like a knee-jerk reaction to white hot hype than genuine emotion…this is it. Cinephiles, go back to picking on American Beauty. Leave Good Will Hunting alone.
Good Will Hunting looks great on Blu-Ray; the 1080p MPEG 4 AVC transfer is warm and detailed, with great color depth and fine detail. There's just a hint of grain present, making for a very organic, natural looking image. The sound is clear and clean, with the dialogue heavy film relying on surrounds more for score and ambiance. It's a low key film though, with little in the way of fancy audio tricks.
Lionsgate does another solid by stacking the disc with extras. The commentary with Van Sant, Damon, and Affleck is a great listen, the retrospective documentary is excellent, and runs just over an hour, and there's a wealth of deleted scenes and vintage featurettes to spool through. It's about as all encompassing a package as one should expect, and should be definitive at this point.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
This isn't the first time that Good Will Hunting has hit Blu-Ray, and this version mirrors the old release pretty closely. According to Amazon the releases were less than a year apart, and while the new features on offer are great, and the old features are ported over, this sort of yearly re-hashing shouldn't be encouraged. I thought we'd seen the last of these shenanigans when DVD died. I hope we don't get Good Will Hunting: The Applesauce Edition! in another year's time.
Good Will Hunting is a heartfelt, warm, and well acted drama that remains as valid and endearing as it was 15 years ago. Great performances, a great script, and assured direction defy the "overrated" accusations levied against it. This isn't some pretentious pseudo-art film or exercise in style, just a simple tale of a man coming to grips with himself and his unique abilities. Lionsgate's double dip is a little superfluous, but it's a technically sound effort.
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