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Finding Forrester
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Finding Forrester - Click to view! FINDING FORRESTER (2001)
Starring Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin.
Directed by Gus Van Sant.
MPAA rating: PG-13

Funnier, flashier, sexier, speedier. Hollywood, circa 2001, is too often a rehash, remake or sequel to yesteryear's plots and ideas. Gone are the days when a simple, well-thought, well-acted film could be learned from. Or so we thought.

The story begins very subtlety. Viewers are thrust into a black 16 year-old's world--the New York ghetto life of Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a young man who devours classic books and writes journals to helps numb the loss of his deadbeat dad walking away. But basketball is the only way to social acceptance in the Bronx, and friends know him only as a star player always focused on the hoop. The film is nothing more, nothing less for the first 45 minutes, a ruse played superbly by newcomer Rob Brown. Then it breaks. A dare from some friends compels Jamal up into a "haunted" apartment window. Expectedly, a hermit is stirred, and scares the kids; unexpectedly, this aging loner proceeds to thumb through Jamal's left-behind personal notebooks, editing each with comments like "Excellent passage," "Constipated style," and "Not suitable for our readers." Jamal looks for answers about the recluse, and so begins a most compelling and clumsy friendship.

William Forrester (Sean Connery) had lived off the royalties of his one novel for over fifty years. His filing cabinet full of work would never see the light of day, for fear that it too would be picked apart by critics, or worse, set up every relationship for failure because of people's unreasonable expectations. Street-wise, chatty Jamal creates quite a stir for the bearded writer, pursuing to know him, and get help from this "dog" who clearly knows his stuff.

Scores back from an assessment test reflect Jamal's hours of privately honing his literary skills, and he accepts a scholarship offered by a prestigious prep school across town. Refusing introductions, the basketball team's former star is rubbed the wrong way, a small thing compared to Jamal ruling the court with his consistent range and stunning hook shot. Wallace's real concern is English class, where Prof. Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) is sure that an "athlete of questionable background" couldn't be writing the astounding work he turns in. Like any red-blooded teenager, Jamal gets hacked off at this haughty teacher. In one of their increasingly usual talks, trusted William reveals more of his past when telling Crawford's history as a has-been biographer. From there, the film's 136 minutes continue at a leisurely pace, content to tell a moving story of reconciliation sans outrageous gags or excessive gore. Forrester's climax is set in motion by Sean Connery, who portrays endearment and unrest without betraying his character's crusty, disillusioned side.

Director Gus Van Sant evidently didn't target a "wide audience," if that means canned family fare or a predictable action flick. One will find no obligatory characters, no superfluous dialogue, no cheap cultural references. An interview with screen legend Connery told of how he and the teenager's real-life relationship mirrored the one on screen, as the experienced, older actor offered much advice to Rob Brown in his movie debut. Finding Forrester reaches deep into the human soul through the symbolism of two very real guys looking for meaning. One found the father he lost; the other mentored the son he never had.
- Josh M. Shepherd
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