I have, in the past, stated my grief at the passing of Robin Williams. As a performer, he brought great personal joy into millions of lives, whether as an eccentric alien in Mork and Mindy, or in his more serious roles like Dead Poets Society, or indeed Good Will Hunting, he was a unique and powerful presence and he is missed dearly.
When it comes to his greatest performances, there are a lot to choose from, it all comes down to personal taste. Some remember him as Mrs Doubtfire, or the Genie, but where I feel he has most stood out, is in his more tender performances, which is why I chose this to review. What I consider to be his greatest gift to the world.
When Good Will Hunting was released, it made stars of writer/actors Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, it was actually a final college assignment for Damon, it was only completed when Affleck came on board, and had a troubled journey to the big screen. After its release though, Hollywood saw the promise of these two young fledgling actors and made them stars, and the rest as they say, is history.
Will Hunting (Damon) is a troubled young Maths prodigy, working at a local school as a janitor, and who through a brush with the law, ends up as the patient of an unorthodox therapist (Williams) through these sessions, Will re-evaluates his life and relationships, as well as confronting his past.
Good Will Hunting is one of those challenging films to review. A film that is so universally considered to be good, that anything I could write about it has been written a hundred times, but never mind because I’m going to write about it anyway.
The main emotional draw of this film for me is the characters and their relationships. Especially the relationship between Will and Sean, his therapist. Will doesn’t feel like a character in a film, he feels like a human being, with flaws and struggles, as does Sean, they’re both mourning a past life and seeking comfort, Sean finds his in helping others, and Will is yet to figure out where his future lies, and each choice he makes up to that point is progressively worse.
The performances of these two bring the characters to life in a believable and engrossing way. Damon is emotional and reactionary, not knowing where to lay the blame for what has happened in his life, now given this rare chance to turn his life around. Whereas Williams dials back his usual frenetic energy into a contained, emotional performance, one that still shows glimpses of his usual self, but in a controlled way. Sean McGuire is a man with his own troubles, and that is evident in the film, but portrayed in a million subtle ways so masterfully that it makes his more emotional moments all the more affecting.
Just look at the now famous ‘it’s not your fault’ scene for this sense of escalation, the exchange changes in pitch and intensity to such an emotional peak that it causes a much-needed explosion of emotion from Will, and a sense of breakthrough for the audience, all delivered in such level and controlled tones that it’s hard to believe the man behind it once played an alien that sat on its head.
Aside from the much-admired acting, the film is tactfully shot by talented and experienced director Gus Van Sant, a man whose career has blown hot and cold, but is at the top of his game here. Always finding the right shot to aid the story, to give us the full picture, to see each side of an argument. Such a knack of filming is underappreciated as a whole, and I feel Van Sant does an excellent job of aiding the story with the camera.
All things considered then; this is a complete gem of a film. Perfectly balanced and not a minute too long. All the emotions hit home, and it finishes with an incredibly satisfying and uplifting conclusion. A brilliant script helped along with masterful performances and expert direction, and you have yourself a masterpiece of cinema, a piece of art that solidifies not only what cinema can be, but, soberly, what the world has lost in Robin Williams. He not only delivers a towering emotional masterclass, but generously supports Damon in delivering his own tour-de-force. A truly brilliant film.