Because of scoring exceptionally high on a statewide standardized exam and being an exceptionally good basketball player Jamal Wallace is sent to a prestigious prep school in Manhattan. He soon befriends the reclusive writer, William Forrester.Written by
the chan man
As a person who enjoys good movies, as well as reading and writing, I loved this film, and would see it again. Some may accuse it of being formulaic, but I feel that there is just enough unexpected-ness in it to keep the audience interested. I would hope that the apparent similarities to the director, Gus Van Sant's earlier work, Good Will Hunting, do not dissuade anyone from seeing the film. Any similarities are unimportant and do not take away from the fact that this is a good movie which stands alone as a deep film with an good plot. The script is very well written and all of the dialog appears real and natural. It is a thought provoking drama, but it is not depressing or sappy, as all too many dramas are. At the same time, it does not give the impression of simply being a feel-good movie. Also, although there are several humorous lines in the movie, they do not rely on cheap puns or slap stick humor.
William Forester once wrote a Pulitzer Prize winning book, but now is a recluse, hiding from his fame, who never leaves his book-filled apartment in the Bronx, but spends his time reading and bird watching, as well as watching the teenagers of the neighborhood play basketball in the park outside his window. Jamal Wallace is one of these teenagers. He hides his love of reading, and his brilliant writing skills, and chooses instead to gain the acceptance of his peers through his skill at basketball. A prep school has offered Jamal a scholarship because of his high test scores, and their need to win a basketball championship. The two characters meet, and Forester becomes a sort of teacher/mentor, but both learn many things from each other. Symbolism is important in this film, and it makes many good points about people, how we relate to each other, and how we deal with the difficulties of life.
The movie stays away from any violence and sex. It is rated PG-13 because of brief strong language and sexual references, but even these are few, and not over done, using only what is necessary to create real characters and setting -- a refreshing difference from many films that are now being made. The message of the film is good and moral, but it was wonderful to see a serious film staring a young black person that does not hit you over the head with messages of racial tolerance.
One of the surprises in the film is the great soundtrack. It is mostly Jazz songs from Miles Davis and others, which seems well suited to the mood of the movie and to the setting, another well done part of the film. The final song, a medley of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" and "What a Wonderful World" is great. I was happy that this movie had refused to do what many recent movies have done in capitalizing on a soundtrack and trying to use or create hit pop songs in a movie. It also stays away from sappy and unnecessary orchestra music that is often used to try to create emotion in the audience. This movie does not need to resort to tricks like this in order to make you feel for the characters. Another happy surprise is a cameo from Matt Damon.
The acting is wonderful, particularly from the experienced Sean Connery, playing the title character, and from newcomer Robert Brown, as Jamal. Even the more minor parts in the film, such as Jamal's older brother, played by Busta Rhymes, and Jamal's friends and teachers are well-acted. Anna Paquin is well suited for her role as Claire, a rich girl from the prep school that Jamal transfers to. The two seem to make a connection, but a romantic subplot is not pursued very far in the film. I found this a refreshing change, and one of the factors that kept the movie from being too predictable, as well as much more realistic. Real life romances do not usually happen the way they often do in films. A disappointment was the character played by F. Murray Abraham. Although well acted, there is a complete lack of character development, and the teacher-that-gives-the-brilliant-student-a-hard-time stereotype is hard to ignore. Despite this one shortcoming, this is an excellent film.
As the film ended and the credits began to roll, I noticed that no one in the theater got up to leave, as is usually the case in theaters. The audience remained seated until the credits and music had finished, and the lights came back on. It is just that kind of a movie. I would defiantly recommend it to anyone wishing to see a mature and thought-provoking film that is entertaining and enjoyable to watch, and will leave you feeling inspired.
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