To tell a story, and to tell it well, is probably the only universal ethic
of film-making, and any film-maker who can create on screen a picture of reality
that rings true in his audiences' minds can be said to have done his job. And
you can say Gus Van Sant does his job in Finding Forrester, a tale of a reclusive
writer and a sixteen-year-old black boy who teaches him the value of life even
as he learns from him the worth of words.
Sounds a little saccharine? Well, it isn't. Finding Forrester is a tale sparingly
told, with no pretense of preaching and no insincere emotional humbug. In an
age where feel-good dramas rule the industry, a movie like this is a refreshing
and welcome change.
Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) is a 16-year-old with a talent for basketball and
for the written word. William Forrester (Sean Connery), a Pulitzer prize winning
one time writer with more phantoms in his life than you would care for, lives
in the same locality as Wallace, watches the world go by from his window, and
doesn't venture out. When Jamal's work accidentally falls into his hands, he
sends it back with more than a few strong comments and thus begins a rather
unusual but nourishing relationship.
Jamal's high test scores get him admitted into a private school, where the management
seems more interested in his skills on the basketball field rather than off.
When Jamal's class is assigned to read "Avalon Landing", Forrester's only book,
and Jamal realizes who the reclusive crazy man really is, Forrester makes a
pact with Jamal: he will continue to help Jamal with his writing if Jamal promises
him that he would tell no one about Forrester and ask no personal questions.
Promise made, the two launch into almost-daily discussions about different authors,
writing and the use of conjunctions. At school, Jamal encounters the charmingly
cynical Claire and the not so charming Robert Crawford, a teacher of literature
and an unpublished writer. Bitter and highly sarcastic, Crawford refuses to
believe in Jamal's capacity and accuses him of plagiarism. The rest of the movie
is about how the two fight their demons and find their way.
The script is all dialogue, and depends largely on performances and the chemistry
between the two actors, and both Sean Connery and first time actor Rob Brown
do not fail it. Brown is so understated that at times you wonder what the fuss
is all about. You soon find out. Connery is just brilliant.
Having said all this, Finding Forrester is not everyone's kind of movie. If
you do not enjoy intense dialogue-baazi and dark backgrounds, you'd do
good to stay away. But if you like long conversations, ideas and a story well-told,
don't miss this.