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GOOD WILL HUNTING (1997) (****)

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This film is one of the best films of 1997, which contained a strong list of other contenders, including BOOGIE NIGHTS, CHASING AMY and L.A. CONFIDENTIAL. Director Gus Van Sant gained mainstream success with this Oscar nominated production. The film received nine Oscar nods, including Best Picture. A wonderful mix of writing, acting and music, GOOD WILL HUNTING can be just as funny as it can be soulful.

The story follows Will Hunting (Matt Damon, OCEAN'S ELEVEN), a poor, hardheaded orphan who happens to be a Math genius. To save Will from jail, MIT professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard, BREAKING THE WAVES) offers to take him under his custody provided that Will works problems with him and sees a therapist. After going through a few psychologists, Gerald gets Sean Maguire (Robin Williams, WHAT DREAMS MAY COME), a community college psych professor who used to be his roommate in college, to help.

The main success of the film is the amazing script. Damon and Ben Affleck (PEARL HARBOR) won the Oscar… with some help from an uncredited William Goldman (PRINCESS BRIDE). All the characters are fleshed out. A lesser film would have the Gerald and Sean roles as one-dimensional plot holders that help the story along, but even the secondary characters have their own motivations here. Will struggles between his superior mind and working-class roots, something that connects Sean and him. Because of a painful past, Will keeps up a tough front and uses his intelligence as a weapon. Remember the scene where he rips apart the ponytailed jerk in the bar? Sean sees Will's guarded nature and must find a way to break down the walls. Gerald, on the other hand, is jealous of Will's skills and can't see why Will would waste his life mopping floors.

The actors take these characters and fill them out completely. Damon burst onto the scene with an eye-opening performance, which deservedly won him an Oscar nomination. He brings the character the layers it needs, making the character feel like one person. Battling will's with Will, Williams deserved his Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for one of his most subtle and heartfelt performances as a man who has erected some of his own emotional walls since the death of his wife. Affleck plays Will's lifelong friend Chuckie, creating his best character. Affleck knows the role and becomes the character. Minnie Driver (CIRCLE OF FRIENDS) plays Skylar, the Harvard student that falls in love with Will. There's one scene where she tells Will that she loves him that is truly heartbreaking.

Every character gets their moment, which helps Will's growth. This film is a textbook case of great writing without desperately sticking to given structures, relying on the characters. This is a masterwork that started many of its young stars' careers and gives us a modern classic.

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Rick DeMott
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