Suspend Your Disbelief and Have Fun 'Finding Forrester'

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Suspend Your Disbelief and Have Fun 'Finding Forrester'

"Finding Forester" is the kind of movie you have to take a leap of faith to enjoy. Not everyone will buy into the implausibility of an author who refuses to leave his apartment for 40 years after the death of a family member. It is suggested that this character never ventures past sitting on the ledge of his windowsill.

In William Forrester, director Gus Van Sant tries to create a cranky J.D. Salinger-esque character, but he goes overboard with the portrayal of a social recluse. It is hard to fathom that a successful and vibrant writer would abandon his career and life because of one setback.

Also hard to swallow is that something as rigid as a self-imposed seclusion could be subdued by the friendship of a teenager who first breaks into William's apartment, and then later becomes his pupil. A less fantastical meeting of the two would have sufficed, but if you can look past these oversights you will be rewarded with the generally feel-good tone of the film.

Unbeknown to his neighbors, William Forrester is a Pulitzer prize-winning author who abandoned the literature world after his first and last book was published some 40 years ago. To the kids in the neighborhood, he is simply thought of as the local hermit.

Jamal Wallace (Robert Brown) is a genius blessed with the gift of prose. After his test result scores indicate that he is of exceptional intelligence, an elite prep school offers him a full ride to attend school and play basketball (here the storyline seems to be taken straight from the basketball documentary "Hoop Dreams"). As the star basketball player he is respected, but off court he is the victim of double standards and institutionalized racism in a rich all-white school. He works hard to prove himself worthy of the scholarship and in the process wins the respect and friendship of Claire (Anna Paquin).

Back in the 'hood, the worlds of Forrester and Jamal collide when Jamal is dared by curious friends to enter and steal something from the home of the writer. Upon leaving, he forgets his bookbag containing his cherished collection of writings. When he returns to apologize and asks to have his belongings returned, Forrester unceremoniously dumps the journals onto the street - but not after reviewing the work and writing in his criticisms.

Thus begins the strange but endearing relationship between mentor and student. Forrester teaches Jamal how to perfect his writing, but only on the condition that Jamal keep the famous author's whereabouts silent.

Jamal's desire to succeed at school and silence the accusations of his doubting English teacher (F. Murray Abraham) drives him to enter the school's writing contest. When his writings are declared as a fraud, Forrester is the only person who can vouch for the writing's authenticity - but he won't due to his fear of being discovered.

The new release is similar to Van Sant's previous "Good Will Hunting" (there's even a cameo by Matt Damon) in that the main characters are both genius working-class boys from ordinary backgrounds. These and other movies like "Forrest Gump" and "Billy Elliot" tell stories of imperfect lives enriched by interaction with others. Forrester becomes like a father figure and benefactor to Jamal, while Jamal inspires Forrester to live again. "You need to know that while I knew so very early that you would realize your dreams," Forrester later writes to Jamal, "I never imagined I would once again realize my own."

Choosing an actor with no prior experience was a big chance to take, but Brown's performance is credible and displays an innate ability for the craft.

While Connery is always entertaining, the movie limits his usual dominance of the screen to a mere coasting along. Abraham offers the most impressive performance, showing the same malevolence that he imbued the composer Salieri with in "Amadeus."

The film falters at the end in mimicking the climactic closing in "Scent of a Woman," but is void of Al Pacino's fiery inspiration. Yet the finished product is a strong follow-up to the success of "Good Will Hunting." It will keep audiences pleasantly engaged for a couple of hours.

by Joseph Kim

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