Tag Archives: Robin Williams

Review: Good Will Hunting

Director: Gus Van Sant
Year: 1997
Score: 7.5/10

Rest in peace.

Rest in peace.

I’m listening to Elliott Smith while I write this review. I rarely need an excuse to dive back into Smith, but this time I have two: his songs permeate Good Will Hunting so thickly that I’d be humming him anyway at this point, so I might as well listen instead; and I know of no better mourning music.

The person I’m mourning is, of course, the great Robin Williams. Much has been written about him over the past couple of weeks, and I’m not intending to add to that, except to say that he was a supremely talented man who brought me a lot of joy and will continue to do so as I revisit his work.

I hadn’t seen Good Will Hunting since its theatrical release seventeen years ago, back when I was young and naïve and entirely deserving of the condemnation Sean (Williams) serves Will (Matt Damon) in the park bench scene. Given that, and the fact that it was the film for which he won an Oscar, watching and reviewing it seemed like a fitting tribute.

This is a thoughtful and moving film, probably my favourite of the Gus Van Sant films I’ve seen (though ask me another day and I might choose Milk instead). It’s not short and it sags a little in the second half, especially in scenes without Williams or Minnie Driver. However, the ending is solid and there are some very nice emotional beats along the way.

Williams’ performance is excellent, showing restraint, warmth, pathos, depth and nuance. He truly is the heart of the film (and I was surprised, upon revisiting it, that he doesn’t appear until the 33 minute mark). As for his co-stars, Damon is fine in the lead role; Driver gives the best performance I’ve seen from her; Stellan Skarsgård is memorable if unsubtle; and Ben Affleck is a noticeably weak link.

In fact, Affleck’s character seems entirely superfluous. I recognise the narrative and thematic purpose of Will’s group of friends (or “retarded gorillas”, as they’re labelled at one point), but really, there’s no reason at all for their ringleader to be played by Affleck. He brings nothing to the role beyond a retrospective “hey look, it’s Ben Affleck!”, and the sense that he only got it because he co-wrote the script with Damon. At least his brother Casey is interesting to watch as another of the gorillas (though that may be more to do with my appreciation for Casey’s later work), especially knowing that he apparently improvised quite a few of his lines.

It’s hard not to be impressed by the script, which scored Damon and Affleck Oscars. As far as entries into Hollywood go, their’s was pretty remarkable, moreso when considering the heights they would both go on to reach.

Van Sant’s direction is relatively straightforward, letting the actors do their work and thankfully avoiding stylistic flourishes that might have distracted from or undercut the story. Even when the film loses steam, there’s enough momentum to carry through to the end. Somehow, despite the fake-sounding Boston accents and the familiar nature of many of the key moments and conflicts, it never quite tips over into cliché-ridden or saccharine tosh. Elements such as the liberal sprinkling of Smith tunes – which fit well with the mood of the piece and add an air of melancholy and maturity – are especially helpful in this regard.

Reading this review, my score of 7.5 might seem a touch low, given all the praise. It’s not a perfect film; in fact, I’d hesitate to even call it great. However, it’s iconic, has much to like, and serves as a wonderful showcase for Williams’ non-comedic acting chops. For those reasons, I can wholeheartedly recommend it, especially for fans of Williams or anyone who either hasn’t seen it or hasn’t seen it since its original release.

Review: Dead Poets Society

Director: Peter Weir
Year: 1989
Score: 8/10

Apparently 'Carpe Diem' means 'seize the opportunity for non-consensual sexual contact with a girl passed out on a couch'.

Apparently ‘Carpe Diem’ means ‘seize the opportunity for non-consensual sexual contact with a girl passed out on a couch’.

Probably the best movie I’ve seen in the ‘inspirational teacher’ subgenre, though I haven’t seen Goodbye, Mr. Chips or To Sir, With Love, so take that with a grain of salt. It’s also hard to think of a better dramatic performance from Robin Williams (I guess maybe Good Will Hunting, but it’s a tough call); he’s believable and genuinely inspiring as the unorthodox teacher who urges his boys to seize the day. It’s not a subtle movie by any means but it packs quite an emotional punch. I’ll admit I found some of the boys – including even some central characters – hard to tell apart for a good chunk of the movie; I imagine if I rewatch it, they’ll be more readily distinguishable to me. I wish Neil’s father got more of a comeuppance (or was more obviously shattered by what transpired) in the final act. Interesting piece of trivia for readers of this review who are familiar with Scots College in Sydney: director Peter Weir apparently wove many elements of his own schooling at Scots into the film.