Retro Film Review: Good Will Hunting

[Another film review written for my student newspaper, this time from 6 March 1998. A quick note to explain the first sentence: Felix was and presumably still is the student paper of Imperial College, one of the top universities in the UK, and known originally for the more technical sciences and having a heavily male, and nerdy, student body.

I’m not quite sure why there was such a gap between film reviews for the paper – I don’t think I’d done a bad job of the previous four, which were published in October and November of 1997, and the film editor liked my reviews because he didn’t have to edit them, unlike the ones he got from other reviewers. I’m sure I kept asking for more reviews, but I have never been a pushy chap, so that didn’t help. After such a gap, I’m surprised that I was given another chance.

I was glad for the chance – Good Will Hunting is one of my favourite films (it is a large list, to be honest), and it was a great experience watching it with stoic film critics while being moved to tears at the scene where Williams tells Damon, ‘It’s not your fault.’ Well, that’s my excuse for such an effusive review.]

A film about a tough but charismatic genius with problems, trying to fit in at one of the best technical colleges in the country might seem a familiar theme to readers of Felix. Fortunately, it is set in the more picturesque Boston, and the people in the film are far prettier, too.

Newcomer Matt Damon (who co-wrote the screenplay with best friend and co-star Ben Affleck) is Will Hunting, angry young man, but one blessed with a photographic memory and the ability to instantly solve complex mathematics problems. However, Will prefers menial jobs, drinking with his best mate Chuckie (Affleck) and getting into trouble. When he is staring at a jail sentence, his only way out is offered by a maths professor, providing he hones his talent and visit a college academic/therapist (Robin Williams). It is the sessions with the therapist, and the flourishing of a relationship with a student at MIT (Minnie Driver), that holds the key to Will’s survival.

This is a quite superb movie. The screenplay, although written by youngsters, is warm, funny, intelligent and poignant. The acting is excellent, from the young talent to the season veterans, with Williams reminding the audience why he has been previously nominated three times for an Oscar. Gus Van Sant keeps the film personal without getting overly sentimental, letting the actors do their work and the script weave its magic. If you are not moved by this film then you had better check your pulse.

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