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Region 4 DVD Reviews: Finding Fathers

Originally published in Australian HI-FI, October/November 2004, v.35#05

Good Will Hunting cover Good Will Hunting
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Matt Damon, Robin Williams, Ben Affleck, Minnie Driver and Stellan Skarsgard
Finding Forrester cover Finding Forrester
Director: Gus Van Sant
Starring: Rob Brown, Sean Connery, F Murray Abraham and Anna Paquin
Movie: A+, Picture: B-, Sound: A, Extras: D Movie: A+, Picture: A-, Sound: A, Extras: A-
Director Gus Van Sant has had a peculiar career. His most recent movie is Elephant, an arty Columbine Massacre-derived movie, ambivalently but generally positively reviewed. Between the two movies reviewed here, he made a colour version of Psycho, a near frame-by-frame replica of the original. And just before this movie, his extremely black comedy To Die For proved that the current controversy over Nicole Kidman's acting ability is plainly silly.

These two movies, both directed by Van Sant, deal with extraordinary young men in search of direction. Both are geniuses, plain and simple, although Good Will Hunting's eponymous Matt Damon is rather harder to believe. The reason? This 20/21 year old is not just a mathematical genius, but the most incredible polymath, as he shows by humiliating a pretentious Harvard history student.

Getting the audience to believe this is a big ask, given that Hunting is an abused orphan and no suggestion of hi being guided at all in his incredible accumulation of knowledge. Extreme native mathematical talent has historical precedent. Massive legal and historical knowledge requires time -- even if Hunting can speed-read.

Yet this movie is a triumph of overcoming these objections, in making the viewer believe in the characters, and even accept the trite getting-him-to-cry-will-solve-all-his-problems resolution. Primarily this is thanks to performances by both Damon and his psychologist, Robin Williams, that range from subtle to powerhouse in their range. Williams receiver a Best Supporting Actor Oscar, and Damon, with Ben Affleck, received Best Original Screenplay Oscar. The former was entirely deserved. The latter was thanks to the work of Van San and the actors.

This DVD is like a time capsule, hailing from the early days of Roadshow Entertainment's DVD production. The movie suffers from a lack of space, with the disc's two hours being stuffed onto a single layer, and a big chunk of that being further absorbed by a superfluous two channel MPEG audio track sucking a further 365 megabytes out of the available real estate. The picture quality is no more than adequate. And there are no extras to speak of.

Anyone watching these two movies, knowing absolutely nothing about them, would not take long to conclude that they share the same director. Both contrast the humble city accommodation of their protagonists with the beauty of the high-class educational institutions in which they find themselves. Both are paced similarly, and use similar cinematography, with a slightly grainy look, although Will is given a yellow/brown cast, while Forrester goes for blue/brown.

But most of all, the main characters are in the same position. You have to check the credits of this movie to find that it was written not by the Damon/Affleck team, but by then first-time scriptwriter, Mike Rich. Unlike the prodigy Will, played by the already experienced Damon, Forrester's Jamal Wallace is played by Rob Brown, an inner-city kid selected by audition. His follow-up work to this movie has been slow in coming, but there are now a couple of movies in post production featuring him. On his performance here, they ought to be worth watching.

Sixteen year old Jamal is a literary prodigy and, thankfully, happens into a relationship with a crusty Sean Connery, playing the Forrester of the title, the writer many decades earlier of the 'great American novel', and now a hermit.

Like Will, Jamal lacks a father. And as Robin Williams provides one for Damon, so Connery provides one for Brown. The relationship is built initially on their shared literary talents, but deepens, and ends up giving more to Connery than to his protege.

F Murray Abraham has a most enjoyable time playing the school teacher, building his overt nastiness nicely over the course of the action, leading finally to a 'Scent of a Woman'-like denouement.

This is a dual layer DVD, but even so the movie itself is a bit lighter on for bits than it deserves. The extras are interesting, but it would be nice if Columbia TriStar would give this one the SuperBit treatment. That ought to get the video bitrate up above 7Mb/s, where it belongs.

Running time: 121 minutes
Video: 1.85:1 anamorphic (3.90Mb/s average video bit rate)
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 3/2.1, 384kb/s & MPEG2 2/0.0, avg 384kb/s
Subtitles: Nil
Features: Trailer, Biographies
Running time: 131 minutes
Video: 2.35:1 anamorphic (4.43Mb/s average video bit rate)
Sound track: English: Dolby Digital 3/2.1, 448kb/s
Subtitles: English, Dutch, Arabic, Bulgarian, Czech, Danish, Finnish, Greek, Hebrew, Hindi, Hungarian
Features: Filmographies; Trailer: 'All the Pretty Horses' (2 mins); Trailer: 'First Knight' (2 mins); Featurette: 'Found: Rob Brown' (12 mins); 'Making Of' featurette (15 mins); Two deleted choir scenes (7 mins); Trailer (2 mins)

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