Is Gus Van Sant obsessed with remakes? First he remade Hitchcock's "Psycho" shot for shot, and now he's remade his own "Good Will Hunting," with "Finding Forrester."
"Good Will Hunting" was an interesting, sometimes moving, often witty film about a slum kid without much hope or expectation being recognized for the genius he is. "Finding Forrester" is almost the same film, with two differences: First, this time we have a black kid from the Bronx instead of a white kid from South Boston; and second, the bad guy is played by F. Murray Abraham instead of Stellan Skarsgaard.
As a variation on GWH and its Robin Williams psychologist nursing a hurt, this film leeches onto the J.D. Salinger story of the reclusive author who won't come out, ever, to play or do anything else, until the kid -- oh, but you know the rest.
There you have it; the question is, is it worth it? No, it isn't, but since Van Sant a very good if quirky director and is incapable of making a truly bad film, what we can respond to here is the kid, played by Rob Brown, a 16-year-old first-time actor, who is absolutely perfect in a role that is seriously underwritten and stretches our credulity to the breaking point. Brown has no acting mannerisms, is transparent to the camera in showing both his feelings and the ways in which he hides them, and easily transcends his material.
On the other hand, Sean Connery, as the Forrester-Salinger character, doesn't even bother to phone his part in; he seems rather to have left a note on which he's indicated some appropriate shtick for us to respond to. And Abraham, who will always be the prisoner of his great work in "Amadeus," is Murray-one-note, the supercilious snob of an English teacher at the hi-falutin' Manhattan prep school where Brown's character is given a scholarship. The script even gives lovely Anna Paquin, who makes friends with Brown at the school, a bigoted wealthy father who won't let her spend time with him. There's more, leading up to the worst confrontation scene in ages, where Connery emerges from seclusion just in time to save Rob's school career, put Abraham in his place, and rejoin the living. Except that in the editing, someone has truncated the scene and jumbled its shots so badly that whatever power it might have had is gone. Oh, well, no great loss.