1997 / Best Actor / Best Director / Best Picture / Best Supporting Actor / Best Supporting Actress

Film #374: Good Will Hunting (1997)

Our final film in the triple bill sees Williams bring versions of his characters from Dead Poets Society and Awakenings to play therapist Sean Maguire in Good Will Hunting. Although Williams receives top billing he is a definitely a supporting player down to the fact that he won Best Supporting Actor at that year’s Oscars.

Instead the film is all about Matt Damon’s Will Hunting an angry young man with a superior intellect who frequents bars with his best friends including Ben Affleck’s Chuckie. The film has become famous for launching the careers of Damon and Affleck, who co-wrote the film’s screenplay and won an Oscar for their script. The films story sees Will gain notoriety after serving a particularly hard maths problem at the university where he works as a janitor. One of the professors at the institution agrees to bail him out of prison on assault charges along as he agrees to a number of conditions. Alongside regular lessons with Professor Lambeau, Will is forced into attending therapy with Sean being the only shrink who’ll put up with his behaviour. Widower Sean had previously been a classmate of Lambeau’s and the pair had fallen out over that time which makes their time with Will all the harder. Sean and Will’s budding friendship is one of the film’s key strengths as the therapist finally gets the youngster to open up about himself and in turn decides to start living his life again. Alongside this relationship is Will’s romance with student Skylar who seemingly grows to love him over time. But Will’s self-destructive nature seemingly ruins the relationship when he refuses to tell Skylar that he loves too. The final scenes of Good Will Hunting are a little mawkish but at the same time I can’t help but sob every time I see Matt Damon drive off in that car and Elliot Smith playing over the end credits.

As you can probably tell from that statement, I’ve seen Good Will Hunting countless times before and I feel it’s definitely a film that stands up to repeat viewings. The storyline is pretty predictable which probably demonstrates the immaturity of debut screenwriters Affleck and Damon. At the same time Good Will Hunting survives thanks to the well-observed scenes most of which feel true to life. Will and Chuckie’s scenes in particular are realistically drawn and the banter between friends Affleck and Damon feels genuine. Similarly the relationship between Sean and Will isn’t the same that John Keating had with the boys of Dead Poets Society and instead is a lot harder to take at times. You also believe in the romance between Will and Skylar and I always find their date in the joke shop to be a realistic scenario. Even the more emotional moments are well-handled and I still find Sean’s ‘it’s not your fault’ scene to be particularly moving. Though he doesn’t appear until the half hour mark, Williams really steals the show as the down-to-Earth yet damaged Sean. His performance here is a brilliant combination of naturalistic humour and a lot of pathos which really helps in the final scenes. Damon leads the film ably and is a charismatic enough presence to make you want to care about Will throughout. Minnie Driver gives Skylar her own personality and makes sure that she’s not just playing the stereotypical girlfriend role while Stellan Skarsgard is on fine form as Lambeau. Even Ben Affleck shines however I feel that the role was written specifically with him in mind and I don’t think he had to work very hard to perfect the Bostonian accent. The music in the film is beautifully scored by Danny Elfman and the aforementioned original song by Elliot Smith was also Oscar nominated. Good Will Hunting is ultimately a very human film about finding your place in the world and for that reason I think most of us can relate to it.


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