johnlink ranks GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997)

There were several movies which came into my consciousness during my formative high school years which fed my desire to be a writer, or at least, to be involved in creative endeavors for as high of a percentage of my life as possible. These films include PULP FICTION, THE USUAL SUSPECTS, WHEN HARRY MET SALLY, and certainly GOOD WILL HUNTING.

I watched GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) on 12.2.09. I’ve probably seen this film 20 times, though this was my first viewing in at least five years or so.



Gus Van Sant did a lot of things in this film which would have been unnecessarily cut if this was released ten years later. He allows moments of quiet to occur where modern films tend to discredit and remove these ‘time-wasters’. He focuses on seemingly small characters (like the TA, or the bartender) whose simplicity help accentuate the genius of its major characters. Matt Damon, Stellan Skarsgard, and Robin Williams are all brilliant minds in their fields, though they embrace it in different ways. Damon wastes and shields his talents, save to get a girl or to fight for the honor of his friends. Skarsgard embraces and flaunts his, at times to get a girl or fight for the honor of himself. Williams accepts his and somewhat rejects his, and is happy to share his knowledge as a teacher of a community college. For each of these characters, however, their minds are also the reason for each of their respective social deficiencies. Damon is abusive and abrasive, Skarsgard is ego-maniacal and impatient, and Williams is disengaged and complacent.

These three characters engage each other in complex and sophisticated ways. The genius of this film is its ability to intermingle these characters (as well as the less genius Southie boys) in a way which is constantly engaging and emotional. This is a story-telling movie. An anecdotal movie. There are countless reasons why this film should not work, but it does. And it ages well. To me, this is one of the great films of the last twenty years. FILM: 10


I’ve ranked several films this year which have held strong in the world’s pool of constant references. This film is unique in that it is much less of a spectacle than those other films. GHOSTBUSTERS was big, DIE HARD was explosive, THE USUAL SUSPECTS sprawling. But GOOD WILL HUNTING, at its heart, is a small personal film. But once you see it, you’ll never forget “I got her number, how do you like them apples?” or “It’s not your fault.”

I know I could talk about that stuff in the writing section below, but the memorability of this film goes beyond just the script. There is a progression to this film, a build, which is constantly engaging. Having not seen it in years, I found that I couldn’t remember the exact order of scenes. Part of the reason is that this film takes place over the course of several months, and the editing is done in a manor which doesn’t concern itself with cluing you in on how much time has past, or how many encounters have happened between scenes. We get snapshots of these characters’ interactions in a way which reminds us there is an omniscient story-teller telling us, “No, this is the story you gotta hear, this is the one worth telling.” Much the way the boys from Southie have told each other their stories dozens of times, and love having Minnie Driver there as a new audience. We, as viewers, are also that new audience. SCORE: 9


Damon is brilliant in this film. He is almost always well grounded in his films, and this is no exception. We see him having fun in the role, and that is key. Williams proved (at the time) that he wasn’t just a one-note comedian. Skarsgard, Driver, and Affleck all give some of the best landmark performances of their careers. There is not a single weak link in the entire chain of acting here. The local Boston actors feel authentic, the out of town Harvard kids feel real (the best is Scott William Winters as Clark), and the scenes between all of these folks are so organic, that you never become disengaged from their story. FILM: 10


The story goes that Damon and Affleck would drive across the country en route to auditions and tell stories to keep each other awake. They’d make things up as they went, and write them down when they had a particularly good one. That lead to the anecdotal and joke-filled nature of the script. It was full of potential, but also lacked narrative drive. Enter William Goldman (who wrote PRINCESS BRIDE and BUTCH CASSIDY…) who came in and did an uncredited clean up of the script. The movie came out, and now we get to see Affleck and Damon credited as Oscar Winners, even if they didn’t get it for acting (though Damon deserved one for this performance).

This script would be thrown away by script readers these days. I know because I was one. It doesn’t fit a formula. It doesn’t adhere to normal narrative rules (Robin Williams is not introduced until 30 minutes in). It focuses too much on auxiliary characters. But what Hollywood too often forgets these days, is that stories like this need to be told. We need to get out of the cookie cutter a little more, and let some young guys who have a ton of passion get a film made which just might be a little different. SCORE: 9





~ by johnlink00 on December 2, 2009.

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