Although it isn’t readily apparent before seeing the film, the title Good Will Hunting has a double meaning (made obvious by the main character’s name: Will Hunting). However, be it the intriguing story of one good man, or the uplifting search for goodwill in a cynically hard world, Good Will Hunting is a very good film.
Will Hunting (Matt Damon) seems like your average young working class guy in South Boston. During the day, he works as a janitor, or in construction. When he’s not working, he’s hanging around with his pals, Chuckie (Ben Affleck), Morgan (Casey Affleck) and Billy (Cole Hauser), cheering on the Patriots, or trying to impress the educated Harvard girls, including one Skylar (Minnie Driver), over some brews in the local pub.
Only Will isn’t average. Far from it. He possesses a genius matched only once or twice in this century. He has instant recall of every page of every book he’s merely flipped through. He can solve, as an afterthought, complex mathematical proofs that have stumped the brightest professors for years.
Yet, this genius has not eased his life of hardship. His troubled childhood has led to a troubled adulthood. The only reason he is not currently behind bars is his quick wit, and his ability to talk circles around the nearest judge. His pent-up anger and hostility is nearly as vast as his intelligence, and a life of hardship has made his natural responses reflexively defensive.
Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) at M.I.T. discovers Will, quite by accident, but sees it as his duty to unleash the boy’s vast intellect. To these means, he enlists the aid of his college roommate, Sean McGuire (Robin Williams). From a similar background, Sean can relate to Will, and tries to free him from the shackles of his past.
Co-written by its stars, Matt Damon and Ben Affleck, the colorful dialogue of Good Will Hunting achieves the near-impossible. Not only does it create rich characters and vibrant situations, but it avoids several hard-to-miss pitfalls that could have derailed the film. Its tangental approaches to such varied topics as finite math, theraputic techniques and organic chemistry are neither boring enough tranquilize the layman nor abstract enough to annoy the expert. It’s a fine line to walk, but the script balances perfectly.
Matt Damon has written up a whopper of a part for himself, but he carries it off. It smacks a bit of egotism to write yourself into the part of the most intelligent person alive, but with Damon’s electric performance, you can’t envision anyone else that would fit the role.
Robin Williams delivers his best performance in several years. He’s back in his “serious” mode, if the beard wasn’t clue enough. At first it seems as if he may be just reprising his role from Awakenings, but that is not the case. His character here has a harder edge, and is a bit more volatile. It’s that roughness which endears him to both Will Hunting and the audience.
This is a more mainstream film than most of director Gus Van Sant’s previous work. However, he doesn’t seem lost here, and his directoral touches certainly enhance the film.
If Good Will Hunting has a flaw, it is that it indulges itself a bit too much in the area of “pop psychology”. If played in a different tone or by different actors, the film’s theraputic sessions could have been deadly. However, in the capable hands of Williams and Damon, the scenes work wonderfully. Sure they’re manipulative, but when manipulative scenes are done right, you don’t mind it at all. They’re certainly done right here.