Gus Van Sant and mainstream go together like peanut butter and mayonnaise!
Written By: Mike Rich
Directed By: Gus Van Sant
Gus Van Sant has an indelible style, he is a unique filmmaker. At least I thought he was until I delved into the first of his true mainstream efforts I have had the chance to watch. Finding Forrester is an odd film, it’s always a bit off and it never feels like a Van Sant picture. I kept thinking to myself, “there’s no way that the same man who made Elephant and Gerry made this picture, is there?” Finding Forrester is the type of film that could have just as easily been helmed by the likes of a Joe Johnston and the world would never have known any differently. Johnston can direct a decent picture, but there’s no flare to his work, he is decidedly plain and unimaginative, The Rocketeer being the exception. I never knew Van Sant could be so ordinary, so utterly plain and boring. But, he is in Finding Forrester and that left me in a befuddled state for most of the films run time.
If you look past Finding Forrester being a mainstream Van Sat effort, the viewer is still left with an odd film. There are moments that don’t fit, actors who are out of place, and whole sequences that are sloppily done. A few moments that stuck out to me were the championship basketball game, William Forrester’s arrival at the school, and Busta Rhymes, Terrell, giving the letter to William. The first is sloppily done, I know nothing of the background of Van Sant outside of film. But, something tells me he’s never played or watched much basketball, because from a basketball standpoint that whole sequence was bad and from a basketball on film standpoint it was awkward and badly shot. Forrester’s arrival at the school is an oddity in what Van Sant, and writer Mike Rich, want us to think the kids know. They act as if they know who Forrester is, but then when he says who he is they act shocked like they had no idea. It felt like that scene was essential to end the film and they couldn’t think of a better way to do it so they just filmed whatever they could and kept what seemed to work best. Senor Rhymes isn’t really an actor, but his one line when he gives the character of William Forrester the letter from Jamal is easily the worst acted moment in the entire film. It’s very out of place, obvious and hammy all at the same time.
I will give Finding Forrester this much, Sean Connery and Rob Brown work well off of one another. The two men give fine performances and have a natural chemistry between them. Their scenes are a lot of fun to watch, and they do dominate the picture. Still, the rest of the characters are woefully underdeveloped. There are a handful of characters who are introduced and then immediately forgotten, or in the case of F. Murray Abraham and Anna Paquin never advanced beyond a one dimensional story trope. The relationship between Connery and Brown can only do so much, and the film dies any time Jamal leaves that apartment and tries to interact with the other more lifeless characters.
I truly hope that not all mainstream Van Sant is like this, because that would be a real disappointment. He’s capable of so much as a director and he has the resume to prove it. Finding Forrester is a pedestrian effort from him, lacking any of the verve or chutzpah from his independent pictures that made him one of my favorite directors. Finding Forrester is far too tepid and middle of the road to be anything other than decent, and a decent picture from Gus Van Sant is a major letdown.