Finding Forrester: Directed by Gus Van Sant
a jpoc movie review
Unconvincing feel good movie.
Rating & viewing notes
Four out of ten.
Maria and I saw this film in March 2001 at the Kinopolis in Paderborn, Germany. They show one film in English each week to a very small audience.
We saw this soon after Billy Elliot and we know which is the better movie.
Movies often come in pairs. Not only of the "Godfather"..."Godfather 2" variety. If it's not "Volcano" and "Dante's Peak", it's "Armgeddon" and "Deep Impact". Well, now we have "Finding Forrester" and "Billy Elliot"
If you do want to watch a film about a young boy from a one parent family and a poor background who has a wonderful talent which is developed by an irascible and curmudgeonly tutor, you should watch Billy Elliot and not Finding Forrester.
In Finding Forrester, the youngster is Jamal Wallace(Robert Brown [XVII]) a young African American living in the Bronx and his talent is writing. His tutor is William Forrester (Sean Connery) a reclusive writer who dropped from public view after penning one brilliant novel.
Jamal is also a gifted basketball player and he wins a scholarship to an exclusive private highschool. The scholarship is half academic and half sporting and Jamal sets out to make a place for himself as both a sportsman and a serious student. On the way he ruffles various feathers and might be sparking some romantic interest with Claire (Anna Paquin) the daughter of the school's main benefactor. When the academic staff think that his work is too good and accuse him of cheating, he will not betray the trust of Forrester who has sworn him to secrecy but without the writer's help, how will he clear his name?
So what makes this film fail where Billy Elliot succeeded? First of all, the characters in the film are often no more human than the scenery in front of which they work. That's not to say that the acting is universally poor but that the characters are simply unconvincing. We get Coleridge (Michael Pitt [II]) the floppy haired well meaning studious type. The tough sports jock who resents the new guy, the sweet, pretty and well connected Clair and Professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) the English tutor who just happens to be an old enemy of Forrester. You could pretty well predict the existence of these characters before ever seeing the film.
Too many of the film's details are signposted well in advance. We see the boy Coleridge who is studying English and everyone carefully avoids mentioning that he shares a name with a great English poet. So you know that later in the film this coincidence of names will be used in some significant event. Jamal is warned not to answer back to his English tutor because those that do never last long in the class. So you know that later on, he will do just that and be thrown out of the class. Forrester gives one of his own essays to Wallace and encourages Jamal to write a piece based on it. He then warns the boy that anything written in Forrester's room must stay there. So, again, you know that the boy will disregard the instruction and get into trouble.
Finally, the film is much too long. Taking at least half an hour off the running length would tighten it up no end.