Finding Forrester is a strange one in the career of Gus Van Sant who needed to bounce back after the critically mauling of his shot for shot remake of Hitchock’s classic masterpiece Psycho. Gus’ decision to remake Psycho was basically a total pisstake on the concept of remakes. Finding Forrestor is very similar to Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting but it lacks any of that films’ edge.
It’s one of those films about an impoverished genius overcoming his poor economic status to find his voice. Jamal Wallce (Rob Brown) is a smart black kid from the Bronx but is just getting a C average to fit in instead of following his writing talents. He is also an above average basketball player which his heart isn’t in as much as his love of literature.
Everything changes when he meets William Forrester (Sean Connery) after he is dared to enter the reclusive writers’ apartment. They soon develop an unlikely friendship and soon enough he is getting writing advise from the fiction Pulitzer Prize winner. Forrester is clearly based on J.D. Salinger which everyone with the film has now acknowledged. Jamal soon gets a scholarship for a uptown private school and submits a piece of work which has it’s authenticity questioned.
Gus Van Sant for the most part sets and shoots his films in his adopted city of Portland, Oregon, almost all of his great work is set there such as Drugstore Cowboy and My Own Private Idaho. Unless the script really has a great sense of place ala. Milk or Good Will Hunting he really struggles. Gus also always is at his best when he indulges in his quirks, even with his overly quirky but somewhat lovable Harold & Made rip-off Restless. Gus Van Sant strips away all of his quirks in Finding Forrester except the shots of books which include books by Mishima, Kesey etc.
Finding Forrester never truly feels like it has a feel of the city of New York despite Gus living there for a period during the ’70s. It feels like an outsider trying to make a fairly mundane oscar bait film there that could have been easily made (and cheaper) in Portland. Post Finding Forrester Gus would retreat into low-budget indie films almost shot exclusively in Portland until Milk.
Finding Forrester however does have a really strong cast, it’s the last serious film of Connery’s career and he plays himself as always but he obviously loved the material which wasn’t always the case. Rob Brown was discovered in an open casting call and is a natural talent even though he has been forced to do small supporting roles in most of his subsequent work. The cast also includes F. Murray Abraham as a total snob of a teacher and Anna Paquin as a kind of love interest which never works. It’s rounded off by some Van Sant regulars such as Michael Pitt in an early role and Matt Damon in a frankly ludicrous cameo as a lawyer.
Finding Forrester may be a bit of an oddity in Gus Van Sant’s career when he was possibly going to become a mainstream director. He quickly rebelled against that with his existential Gerry a couple of years later. Gus continues to flirt with mainstream cinema especially with his most recent Sea of Trees which is laughably awful. Finding Forrester is beautifully shot and sports a fine cast its mid level Van Sant. It’s perfectly fine and isn’t indulgent like the worst of his “death trilogy”. The two big problems with the film is it’s a white saviour narrative and the use of Gassenhauer for no other reason than to randomly invoke Terrence Malick’s masterpiece Badlands.
Eureka has done a nice upgrade which is has all the features from the previous DVD release. It’s a shame they didn’t get Gus to do a recent interview because it would be interesting to hear how feels about the film now.