Good Will Hunting

Good Will Hunting

*****

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Wow. Who'd have thought a movie involving mathematical equations, therapy sessions and in-depth discussions about water-colour paintings could be so brilliant? Well, clearly, lifelong buddies Matt Damon and Ben Affleck did. Taking an idea, the pair co-wrote and co-starred (wonder how they decided who got the bigger role of Will?) to craft something neither will likely better…

Despite being an emotionally-damaged twentysomething who spends his time getting in fights and boozing with his mates, Will Hunting (Damon) is a rare genius. He works as a janitor at Boston's MIT College, and his mathematical abilities are discovered by the acclaimed Professor Lambeau (Skarsgård) who seeks help getting through to him from jaded counsellor and former roommate Sean Maguire (Williams). Meanwhile, Will develops a romance with a posh student (Driver)...

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Good Will Hunting is helmed by indie darling Gus Van Sant, and the direction is cleverly understated enough that it lets the script shine through. The film started life as a college creative writing assignment then morphed into a thriller involving the FBI (where, you assume, the hunting would be literal) - the end product might not feature too many surprises, but the dialogue is occasionally dazzling and leads to many poignant moments.

Though William Goldman's reported involvement and Kevin Smith’s role as co-producer sparked debate about who actually wrote the final version (the NSA speech wreaks of Smith), credit clearly belongs to the Bostonian chums. There's plenty of subtext there for those looking (the cultural melting pot that is Boston, using one's natural abilities, the healing power of love), but ultimately the story is about someone who’s been hurt and is finding it difficult to let go of all the defence mechanisms they've built up.

Interestingly, two of the key relationships have roots in real life. On one hand, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck show natural rapport as best mates because, well, they are. On the other Damon and Minnie Driver let their off-screen romance produce some real chemistry (they became involved during filming). Though Stellan Skarsgård and Robin Williams convincingly convey a distanced dormroom brothership (even though they weren’t really roommates it really feels like they have history), it’s the dynamic between Damon and Williams that is the heart of the movie.

Undoubtedly, Matt gives a star-making turn full of about-to-boil-over intensity and guarded emotion, but it's the bearded funnyman who stands out with the best serious work of his career. Making his performance more impressive, it transpires that many of his great lines (such as the talk about his wife's idiosyncrasies) were actually improvised.

Simple and unsurprising it may be, but Good Will Hunting is a beautiful and affecting piece of cinema that’ll astonish anyone patient enough to give it a try. That is, unless you have to go see about a girl…

Reviewed on: 26 Sep 2009
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Good Will Hunting packshot
A janitor is discovered to be a mathematical genius.
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Director: Gus Van Sant

Writer: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck

Starring: Robin Williams, Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Stellan Skarsgård, Minnie Driver, Casey Affleck, Cole Hauser

Year: 1997

Runtime: 126 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US

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