Finding Forrester [2000]

Director: Gus Van Sant
Stars: Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Matt Damon
Genre: Drama
Rating: PG-13 (Parental Guidance Suggested)
Runtime: 136 minutes

Finding Forrester could have been a shallow variant of The Karate Kid, congratulating itself for featuring a 16-year-old black kid from the South Bronx who's a brilliant scholar-athlete. Instead, director Gus Van Sant plays it matter-of-fact and totally real, casting a nonactor (Rob Brown) as Jamal, a basketball player and gifted student whose writing talent is nurtured by a famously reclusive author. William Forrester (Sean Connery) became a literary icon four decades earlier with a Pulitzer-winning novel, then disappeared (like J.D. Salinger) into his dark, book-filled apartment, agoraphobic and withdrawn from publishing, but as passionate as ever about writing. On a dare, Jamal sneaks into Forrester's musty sanctuary, and what might have been a condescending cliché--homeboy rescued by wiser white mentor--turns into an inspiring meeting of minds, with mutual respect and intelligence erasing boundaries of culture and generation. Comparisons to Van Sant's Good Will Hunting are inevitable, but Finding Forrester is more honest and less prone to touchy-feely sentiment, as in the way Jamal and a private-school classmate (Anna Paquin) develop a mutual attraction that remains almost entirely unspoken. The film takes a conventional turn when Jamal must defend his integrity (with Forrester's help) in a writing contest judged by a skeptical teacher (F. Murray Abraham), but this ethical subplot is a credible catalyst for Forrester's most dramatic display of friendship. It's one of many fine moments for Connery and Brown (a screen natural), in a memorable film that transcends issues of race to embrace the joy of learning. --Jeff Shannon

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