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
The mechanics of the movie have been well-reviewed by others. Yes, it could definitely have been a better movie, but then again what movie can't you say that about? In terms of plot and character development what it needed most was another 30 minutes, but at two and a quarter hours already most studios would never allow that. (Note that the movie did not seem nearly that long to me.) Perhaps the plot and story could have been tighter, but it's really a remarkable job for first-time screenwriter Mike Rich.
The acting, while not always remarkable, was quite good. Connery brilliantly underplayed Forrester, yielding a less dramatic but much more realistic portrayal of the writer. Rob Brown's portrayal of Jamal was equally reserved yet forceful. The directing held the two characters in balance well. The other characters were well-acted though not generally well-developed (hence much criticism of this movie).
Others have compared Finding Forrester to Goodwill Hunting (also directed by Gus Van Sant) and to Scent of a Woman, suggesting that it is just a ripoff of the plot in those two. If so (which I doubt), those are two pretty good movies to plagiarize. The basic concept of Forrester's story (first novel wins Pulitzer -- what do you do for an encore?) has also been done before, but I've never seen it done so well (and without resorting to The Bottle as an excuse for a wasted life).
What's been missed in the reviews I checked was a discussion of who found whom. When you boil it down, Jamal found Jamal and Forrester found Forrester (just in time), though they found themselves by reaching out to each other and forming a bond of friendship across a gulf of age, suspicion, and race. The way they do this, without the usual twists of self-destruction and miraculous salvation, is both touching and refreshingly real. And finding oneself, in its essence, is what EVERY good drama is about, so, yes, there is a similarity to Goodwill and Scent and every other good movie ever made.
Included in the movie is a very brief first course in writing. Though the movie doesn't dwell on it, the way it presents the process of writing (and of the criticism of writing) is refreshingly realistic.
Speculation about the "real" identity of Forrester is interesting. Salinger has been mentioned, but the similarities are only superficial. Harper Lee (To Kill a Mockingbird) is a much better fit (first novel wins Pulitzer, nothing else ever written, lived as a recluse), but I almost favor the enigmatic Gardner McKay (though Forrester is certainly different in many ways from McKay). However, it's just as likely that Rich had no particular person in mind when he crafted Forrester (since, after all, the First Novel Syndrome is a well known plot theme).
All in all, while not The Great American Movie, it's a very good movie and well worth watching.
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