How do you like them apples?
What is most surprising about "Good Will Hunting" is not so much that co-stars Matt Damon and Ben Affleck wrote the movie, but the fact that despite being a rather run of the mill storyline it is a surprisingly good movie. The fact that "Good Will Hunting" features both strong characters and dialogue helps it to stand out as does the focus of director Gus Van Sant on the important aspects of the story rather than the peripheral which in other hands could have clouded the movies emotion.
Will Hunting (Matt Damon - The Rainmaker) is a bit of a slacker and often finds himself on the wrong side of the law. But Will is special and is an undiscovered genius who through choice works as a humble janitor at the prestigious M.I.T. College famous for its mathematicians. When Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard - Angels & Demons) discovers him solving impossible equations he leaves for his students, he takes him under his wing in the hope of developing his potential. But firstly he has to get through the barriers and calls on the help of his old friend, psychologist Sean Maguire (Robin Williams - Flubber) to try and find out why Will chooses to ignore his natural genius.
There is no denying that "Good Will Hunting" is a very enjoyable and at times an emotional movie but it is more surprising that the storyline is actually not that spectacular. Starting off leading us in one direction where it looks like it's going to be about the discovery of a genius it cleverly manoeuvres itself into being a movie about the unlikely friendships between two people who for one reason or another are afraid of living and fulfilling their full potential. I have to say it is masterfully done causing you to wonder where the movie will lead as it slowly builds layer upon layer of storyline, bringing in elements which at the time feel a little superfluous but then re-introducing them later on to give a depth to the storyline. It is the sort of movie which drags you in as the intensity grows and won't let go off you as it takes you on a journey of emotional highs and lows.
One of the things I enjoy the most about "Good Will Hunting" is that although it introduces numerous sub plots, Will's relationship with his friends, a romance with a med student, the maths professor who wants to develop the unlikely genius as well as the issues between the maths professor and Sean the psychologist, the movie focuses on the essential which is the relationship between Will and Sean as well as the way they individually grow. It is fascinating to watch the numerous sessions between them as the trust and understanding develops into a father & son relationship. But at the same time it is equally fascinating to watch how all these sub plots end up tying into the main storyline, rather than feeling like unnecessary padding. A good example of which is the romance between Will and Med student Skylar played by the lovely Minnie Driver. When this element was first introduced I did get a sense that this was just padding at the bequest of a Hollywood producer demanding the movie had a romantic element, but then it becomes a pivotal element in the relationship between Will and Sean.
Also adding to the enjoyment and power of "Good Will Hunting" is the genuine and razor sharp dialogue, from Will's smart arse repartee with all those around him, through to the caring chats with Sean feel spot on. There is so much enjoyment to be got from watching Will use his superior intellect to out smart someone who feels superior to him because of the way he looks, but there is equally as much enjoyment from the revealing and open chats he has with Sean. It's all very clever and the balance between smart alec repartee and genuinely honest, slightly sentimental dialogue is perfect allowing the movie to naturally rise and dip with the emotion of the scene.
But where "Good Will Hunting" really stands out is in the strong pivotal characters that cause you to want to watch them. Will Hunting, as per the reason for the movies name, is an intriguing character, on one hand you have this amazing genius yet on the other you have a street thug with a list of convictions as long as your arm. The way this character develops from being very protective to slowly being more open is masterfully done and Matt Damon is brilliant in such a demanding role. Maybe it's because he co-wrote the story, but there seems to be a really deep connection with his character as if it had been part of him for years, making it feel very natural.
Opposite Damon is the equally great Robin Williams as Sean Maguire, an equally intriguing character as that of Will. I have to say that I am a huge fan of Williams and to watch him put in a powerful performance as the obviously troubled Sean is a joy to watch. As with Damon there is honesty to his performance allowing the dialogue to flow naturally but restraining his natural urge for comedy only allowing his rapid wit to creep through when appropriate. The powerful performances of both Damon and Williams are without a doubt spot on and I honestly couldn't want for more from them.
In an unenviable job of being a supporting actor Stellan Skarsgard adds layers of intrigue to the character of Prof. Gerald Lambeau and co-writer Ben Affleck does a decent enough job of playing Will's best friend Chuckie Sullivan, delivering one of the movies many memorable scenes where he tells Will "Every day I come by your house and I pick you up. And we go out. We have a few drinks, and a few laughs, and it's great. But you know what the best part of my day is? For about ten seconds, from when I pull up to the curb and when I get to your door, 'cause I think, maybe I'll get up there and I'll knock on the door and you won't be there. No goodbye. No see you later. No nothing. You just left". It's a great scene and as pointed out earlier it is one of those which returns later on to give it a deeper meaning rather than just padding. Plus there is Minnie Driver who I have to say is surprisingly good in a restrained performance as med student Skylar, a performance which won her an Oscar nomination.
Whilst overall "Good Will Hunting" is an impressive movie it does have issues, certain elements which don't work, such as some of Will's friends ending up just as back ground noise. The most notable of these issues is a scene where Lambeau strokes the back of Will's head after having solved a complex maths problem. There is something about the scene which in some ways insinuates something untoward but then never returns to it leaving a slightly uneasy feeling about Lambeau. Thankfully these moments are rare and do not encroach too much on a very good movie. Plus of course there is an ending which although is a little predictable does not spoil the emotional journey you go on to get there.
What this all boils down to is that "Good Will Hunting" is a very good movie which proves that you can turn a run of the mill storyline into something more through good writing, good dialogue, good performances and a focus on the essential rather than the peripheral. It is no surprise that Robin Williams won an Oscar for "Best Actor in a Supporting Role" as did Matt Damon & Ben Affleck for "Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen", although I am a little surprised Matt Damon didn't win an Oscar for his leading role, just for the scene where he berates the NSA.