Good Will Hunting: A Modern Movie Classic
I just watched Good Will Hunting again, and it is a modern classic. First released in 1997, the film stars Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, and Robin Williams. It is directed by Gus Van Sant (Elephant, Milk). Distributed by Miramax Films and everybody’s favourite Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein. The film was made on a budget of $10 million and became a box office smash, bringing in over $225 million.
Good Will Hunting is the type of movie you’d love to hate. It is chalk-full of cliché’s; an enigma picture with lots of talk that we’ve heard before in the movies. Will is an outcast, an orphan, abused as a child, a guy who doesn’t know how good of a woman he has, and a prick turned good guy. It’s set in Boston, although possibly original at the time the setting has become a favourite in Hollywood with movies like Spotlight, The Departed, and The Town all using it as its setting. But it is these cliché’s, and how they defy and define them, that makes this movie so amazing.
The “it’s not your fault…it’s not your fault…it’s not your fault” scene is cliché by today’s standards, but they may have originated it. And it holds so much emotional impact. This, I think, is due largely by deft directing by Van Sant and pinnacle acting chops by Damon. The way his eyes dart away each time he says “I know” is very well done. Or the scene where Affleck says he waits everyday with the hope that he’ll knock on Damon’s door and “you won’t be there”. Typical Hollywood stuff, but when that moment does come at the end of the film, when Damon is no longer home, Affleck sells it extremely well (although his makeup looked, to me, to be off…notice his lips; are they that red really? Guy looks like a vampire).
The film also gave us classic Hollywood moments. Any film that does that is worth recognition. I’m of course talking about when Will first meets his romantic interest, Skylar, played by Minnie Driver. It is in this sequence we get Casey Affleck’s hilariously fantastic line “my boy is wicked smart” delivered in a perfect Bostonian accent, followed by the “do you like apples?” line delivered by Damon. If, in a film, you can create a scene that is remembered throughout the years and is placed in those montages they play at the Oscars then you have done your job.
And we can’t talk about the acting in this film without talking about the late, great Robin Williams. His character has a ton of subdued yet intense emotional resonance, the perfect counter to Will Hunting’s overt intensity. Robin’s role is enhanced by great writing. As Dr. Sean Maguire, Williams delivers some fantastic dialogue: his monologue while watching the swans about how Will could never tell him what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel, his description of meeting his wife (bolstered by great editing to include actual gameplay footage from the 1975 World Series), and his discussion with Will about how the young man will never find a soulmate if he always worries about what will go wrong down the road. In 1997 Williams had been in three other movies, all comedies, but it was this role, a more serious role akin to his previous performance in Dead Poet’s Society, that won him an Oscar for Best Support Actor.
Good Will Hunting is a case study on how to make a movie that plays within the rules of Hollywood that is still emotionally-poignant and unique. Yes, he drops everything to chase the girl; he is the everyman with a unique gift; it looks like he will make all the wrong decisions until the final hour. But look how they incorporate unique storylines to improve the movie. How Williams and Skarsgard bicker about Will because they both want the best for the boy but in their own way which stems from their parted friendship history. Or how they juxtapose the intellectual and emotional conversations Will has with the professor and doctor to the incredibly mundane conversations he has with his friends. I mean, talking about why Morgan O’Mally (played by Casey Affleck) has to whack-off at Chuckie Sullivan’s house isn’t exactly the same as conversing about your haunted past or Einstein-level mathematics.