A young writing prodigy finds a mentor in a reclusive author in FINDING FORRESTER

Sean Connery as William Forrester
Michael Nouri as Dr. Spence
Busta Rhymes as Terrell
Anna Paquin as Claire
Rob Brown as Jamal Wallace
F. Murray Abraham as Prof. Crawford

Directed by
Gus Van Sant

Written by
Mike Rich


Drama, Family

133 minutes

Director Gus Van Sant took the best parts of his own Good Will Hunting and Scent Of A Woman and fashioned Finding Forrester. The title is a something of a misnomer in that Forrester and someone else kind of find each other.

The title role of finding Forrester is played by Sean Connery who is a J.D. Salinger type author who has lived as a recluse in a brownstone. He wrote one novel back in the day and never wrote another. Presumably he said all there was to say in his mind.

A young ghetto kid with a talent for basketball and a bigger talent for writing meet in a rather peculiar fashion that I won’t go into. They form a nice relationship, supplying needs for each other. Rob Brown who was a newcomer played the kid who has gotten a basketball scholarship, from a posh prep school, but has dazzled many with his abilities as a writer.

Finding Forrester has an interesting commentary on our stereotypes. Brown is in the school to bring home a basketball champion. Black ghetto kids are supposed to have talent in that direction. But creative writing? Just where do they think the James Baldwins spring from? That’s no matter to frustrated professor F. Murray Abraham who teaches because he failed as a novelist. As Connery puts it people can get the mechanics of writing down, but talent can’t be learned.

Anyway Brown gets put through a ringer like Chris O’Donnell did in Scent Of A Woman. Can you imagine the late J.D. Salinger coming out of his hideaway in New England on such a mission as Connery undertakes. Much bigger than what Al Pacino did in Scent Of A Woman.

Connery and Brown do form a nice bond and they have good chemistry for the viewer. And that’s really about 80% of Finding Forrester.

You’ll find Finding Forrester worth the effort.

In the inner city, a mysterious man nicknamed “The Window” (Connery) is never seen leaving his apartment. Local teen Jamal (Rob Brown) accepts a dare to enter the man’s apartment. The man surprises him, and he races out, leaving his backpack behind. The next day, the backpack is thrown out the window, and Jamal finds extensive comments in his private journals. He returns to “The Window” to ask for more comments, and, slowly, a friendship begins.

It turns out that the man is William Forrester, recluse author of one of the century’s greatest books who has not published a book since his first won the 1954 Pulitzer Prize. Jamal’s test scores earn him a full scholarship at a posh private school, but they want more from him on the basketball court than in the classroom. Some of his new classmates are friendly, especially Claire (Anna Paquin). But teacher Mr. Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) is suspicious and accuses Jamal of plagiarism. The only one who can defend him is a man who has not left his apartment in decades.

There’s nothing more appealing to watch in a movie than one character teaching another, except perhaps when two characters teach each other, as they do here. This reliable formula is well-presented in this fine film about two great writers at different stages of their careers. Newcomer Rob Brown is as impressive as the Oscar-winning trio of Connery, Paquin, and Abraham. Some of the best scenes are those in which Jamal unleashes his hidden smarts to skewer those who dared to have preconceptions about him. There are also scenes of real loyalty and connection between Jamal and Forrester, and between Jamal and his brother (Busta Rhymes in his best performance yet) and between Jamal and Claire.

The movie’s primary weakness is its climax confrontation, which is artificially constructed and unrealistic. Forrester’s explanation of his decision to withdraw from the world and his decision to change is weakly handled. Jamal may be just a little too perfect. And a brief in-joke appearance by a big star is distracting.

Families can talk about why Jamal and Forrester hide their talents. How does the fact that both have lost family members provide an important connection for them? Why is it important for us to find people who can teach us? Why was Crawford so angry, and do you agree with Forrester’s comment about “bitterly disappointed teachers?” What prejudices are revealed by the characters? Do you agree that “people are most afraid of what they don’t understand?” Family members can also talk about Forrester’s advice that the first draft is written with the heart, the second with the head, and might want to try his technique for getting started on writing.

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