Good Will Hunting is manipulative and spends a good half the film playing your emotions like a piano, but it is so effective that even while you know full well what it is trying to do you can’t help but allow yourself to get involved.
Will Hunting is a young tearaway floating aimlessly through life as his youth evaporates, yet unwilling to start making the grown up decisions. He spends most days with his three buddies hanging out, swearing, trashtalking, fighting and drinking, and his own personal time is spent janitoring and reading…
His friends are more the “whadda you lookin’ at?” type, and it is during the fighting part of his day that Will inadvertently takes a swing at a local cop. Never a great idea.
Will does his janitorin’ at a local college in Boston where a professor named Lambeaux (Stellen Skarsgaard) has posed a mathematical equation as a special challenge to his large group of students, he proposed that anyone who could solve this unbelievably complex problem would get a special prize and acknowledgment.
Will came across the equation on a whiteboard when cleaning after hours and…
Shortly after Lambeaux realises the complex equation has been solved – and with no-one coming forward to claim credit for the feat – Lambeaux sets another, more complicated puzzle. He proclaims that while he doubts anyone will solve this one should they do so it will prove the first was no fluke.
Will has a quick squiz and promptly puts the answer up on the board to something that took teams of mathematicians months to solve working in unison.
But Will doesn’t want any attention or acclaim, when confronted about his acts he runs off to a night on the town with his friends once more. Will’s buddies are simple hard working guys who also play hard, they tease each other unmercifully and seem resigned that this is how their lives will pan out forever. Meanwhile will gives a verbal beatdown to a pretentious egghead in the pub and simultaneously manages to pick up Skyla (Minnie Driver).
Unfortunately thanks to punching the policeman Will is also thrown in prison to await sentencing for his assault. After Lambeaux manages to track him down he witnesses Will defending himself, citing obscure cases and verdicts as precedents and running verbal rings around the more experienced prosecutor.
Yep. Still smart.
But the judge ain’t havin’ it this time… and Will is sentenced to a stretch in the pen.
To fast forward a little Lambeaux manages to pull some strings and has Will released from prison on two conditions, the first that he spend some time with the maths team to see just how deep Will’s intelligence and abilities go, the second that Will seek professional psychiatric help for his personal issues and anger management.
Will agrees, but probably more because he wants to get a shot at Skyla.
Will enjoys the maths side of the equation (get it?), but is far more reluctant to let someone into his head, he cuts a swathe through various shrinks, sidestepping real questions and disarming them with his superior intellect.
Enter Shaun (Robin Williams) a long time friend of Lambeaux and basically the last chance at success. The initial meetings and chats are perfunctory exercises, at best silent at worst rocky and heated, but both Shaun and Will gradually realise that there is more to the other than meets the eye. Shaun feels that Will is incredibly gifted but a little naïve and unsure of how to use his talents, but Will thinks that Shaun too is “slumming it” a little and taking the easy way out.
As the tenuous relationship grows more trusting and each comes to rely more on the other decisions must be made.
Lambeaux feels that Will is a once in a generation mind that could rival Einstein, he wants to “discover” him and unveil him to the world, Shaun only wants Will to think for himself and not merely recite what he knows from reading books and hearing others. More than anything though Will’s buddies all know that he could be so much more than a janitor or construction worker, and while they bust their guts trying to get by they desperately want Will to use his natural talents to do something for himself.
And all the while Skyla and her big head remain in Will’s thoughts…
Good Will Hunting has some excellent dialogue – so much so that it baffles me to think that Matt Damon and Ben Affleck came up with all this in their teens, even though Affleck has backed it up as a director – it is well paced, intelligent and always interesting. Near the end of the film the plot threatens briefly to get a little bit ahead of itself but the loose ends are all neatly pulled together for the conclusion, which while not being incredibly satisfying served to wrap things up nicely.
Robin Williams is thankfully low key and realistic as Shaun, Matt Damon proved that he could act even then, and Skarsgaard has the unenviable role of being the bad guy, but he manages to show full justification for his desires.
Good Will Hunting has become a bit of a punchline through the years, the “How do you like them apples” bit has been parodied, as has the success of the film in Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back (in a hilarious way too), but you can’t ignore the impact that the film has when you watch it.
Final Rating – 8.5 / 10. I remembered it more as a relic of the 90s, an anomaly that was inexplicably successful, rewatching it the other night showed me that it was worthy of the acclaim and the box office, like Will himself this is pretty exceptional.