The “hope” of underprivileged Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) clashes against the cynical remoteness of William Forrester (Sean Connery) in this unconventional yet uplifting film that aims to explore the possibility that all will be well in the end.
Finding Forrester explores the unique relationship between an isolated, reclusive author and a gifted, uncertain youngster. The hope of underprivileged Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) clashes against the cynical remoteness of William Forrester (Sean Connery) in this unconventional yet uplifting film that aims to explore the possibility that all will be well in the end.
Admittedly the film is a little slow, especially for the opening twenty minutes which fails to really grasp attention. Given time though the pace of the plot ties in well with the pace of the character development, which arguably is where we are offered the most drama-infused parts of the plot, the simplest moments where Forrester and Wallace merely chat and write and discuss their philosophies. The more these characters learn about one another, the more they learn about themselves for a heart-lifting tale of aid in unexpected places.
After a dare from his friends Jamal enters William’s house knowing no information on the mysterious man other than circulating rumours and the fact he watches them play basketball from his top floor window with binoculars. The friendship is sparked. Jamal struggles to find his purpose as a sixteen-year-old black boy from The Bronx filling his free time playing basketball, which he excels at and secretly reading and writing, which he also excels at. After leaving his rucksack in the stranger’s apartment William returns it to him having marked all his work which leads to their unconventional friendship.
Regardless of the plot that seems a little familiar and the slow opening scenes, Finding Forrester becomes a film that grabs the audience at the most human level, steered forward by fantastic performances from Connery and Brown that offer a tale of genius suppressed by societal class. After a class test, Jamal’s potential for success is unlocked and he is offered a scholarship at one of the top private schools in the area where he can take forward his love of creative writing and his passion for sport. Race, class, loss and abandonment issues are all taken on board through the film though none of them take centre stage as main focal points. Jamal’s intelligence is revealed to us through class conflicts. For example, before he is to take on his new life in private education Jamal reveals to a white middle-class man that he knows more about the BMW he is driving than he does. The film admittedly is not meant to challenge but it is a base to reassure the idea that despite troubles, all will be well in the world, eventually.
Connery brings a sense of uncommon grace and humour to the role successfully portraying the isolation of a writer’s mind which is not easy to accomplish on screen. His fears regarding the concrete jungle that surrounds the safety of his home is overcome by the surprisingly able youngster he befriends. Just as Jamal’s uncertainty in terms of direction is aided by William’s stern sense of: you can and you will. He tells Jamal: “The first key to writing is not to think” and as the plot unravels we witness William taking his own advice more and more. The fact he is a published writer is kept hidden until part way through the film (although the title and DVD cover is somewhat of a giveaway) which allows Connery to build on the character in a unique and noble manner. He is constantly hinting towards his past even shouting at Jamal for “dog-earing” a book that happens to be the only novel he ever published.
Gus van Sant is clever in his simple use of props to steer character development. William’s sanctuary is his apartment, abundant in books and literature that enable him to feel safe in his home yet afraid of the bustle that comes with the outside world. Jamal takes safety in his basketball, carrying it everywhere, dribbling it in times of boredom or anxiousness and using it as a seat when there isn’t one available. The clash of sport and literature is unlikely, but it works. The powerful relationship between the two protagonists, the expressive acting and the noble life lessons embedded within the screenplay enable the film to overcome the fact it is a little predictable. Ultimately it is the notion of each character’s fear that enables them to come through for one another. With William, the man who for years has been too afraid to leave his home, pumping up his bicycle tyres and cycling into traffic to speak out for the first time since his public writing days, giving away his secrecy to the public eye in support of his friend in front of his peers and teachers. William helps Jamal to surpass his societal constraints and uncover his true potential as a writer while Jamal helps William to transcend the restrictions of his past emotional experiences that able him to be free as a human being. The story in itself is one that is incredibly uplifting.
The film is ultimately enjoyable. It is predictable at points but is able to completely portray a successful and believable writer (thank you Connery) and his relationship with a young positive teenager who has not had the best start in life. The plot brings forth the notion that everyone should be true to themselves despite the odds. Throughout there is a sense of ease accompanied by subtle charm and delicate humour. The end may not be the happiest but leaves us on a note of positivity, which is exactly what it set out to do.
Written by Leah Jade Wimpenny
Directed by: Gus Van Sant
Written by: Mike Rich
Starring: Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes
Released: 2016 / Genre: Comedy-Drama
Country: USA / IMDB
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Top 10 Films reviewed Finding Forrester on Blu-ray courtesy of Eureka Entertainment. The film was released on Dual Format DVD/Blu-ray on February 27, 2017.