Review: Good Will Hunting (1997)

My record with mainstream Gus Van Sant is spotty at best!

Written By: Ben Affleck & Matt Damon
Directed By: Gus Van Sant

I know a lot of people who absolutely love Good Will Hunting. I can see why they love this film, it is, to state it simply, very lovable. There are plenty of emotional swells in Good Will Hunting. It’s a film peppered with the types of moments that tug at a persons heartstrings and leave them feeling emotionally drained. I didn’t love Good Will Hunting, but I did like it despite the large flaws that kept me from loving it.

The swells and moments that drain emotion didn’t quite measure up for me. The biggest flaw I found in Good Will Hunting was that the relationships that the film so depended on were never truly developed. We know that Professor Lambeau wants to help Will, but a shady tinge is added to his reasons for wanting to help. This would have been fine and good if it were an element that was fully explored and used to add an interesting dynamic to the Lambeau/Will relationship. What the film gives us instead is a lot of shouting where the heightened emotions make it seem like we are plumbing the depths of their relationship. However, when every shouting match is over it becomes clear very quickly that the characters are at the same place they started at. The relationship between Will and Skylar is handled in the same fashion. The film very much wants us to view the arguing and the high emotion they display towards one another as development. But, it isn’t really development as much as it’s high emotion being put on screen that leaves the characters right where they were before the display of high emotion.

The two areas where this is not true is in the relationship of the four South Boston friends and the relationship between Will and his psychiatrist Sean. The relationship between Will and his friends isn’t developed per se, but it feels lived in. The words they speak to one another and the way they interact among themselves paints a grouping of tried and true friendships. In the case of Sean and Will, their interactions do show continued development. I completely bought that they helped to change one another because it was clear they they were the only two people in the film who understood each other.

There isn’t much to say about Good Will Hunting in terms of direction. I am a huge Gus Van Sant fan, but Good Will Hunting isn’t a film in which Mr. Van Sant is heavily directing. There are no major flourishes or camera tricks. Mr. Van Sant stays back and stays out of the way, allowing the words on the page to tell the story and leave an impression upon the viewer. Said script is an interesting beast, especially in light of the later directorial work of Ben Affleck. The script for Good Will Hunting is a lighter version of the stories in Gone Baby Gone and The Town. In essence it is the first in a trilogy of films by Mr. Affleck that speak of the inability to escape the poverty of Boston. I found myself more interested in this element of the film than any other, and it left me with the most to think about.

For all of its faults I did enjoy Good Will Hunting. It is a well made film that is lacking in certain areas but strong in others. While it’s not a film I would turn to when citing the reasons that Gus Van Sant is a favorite director of mine it is still an enjoyable watch. The beats in Good Will Hunting are fairly predictable, and not all of the relationships are developed as fully as they could be. That being said, Good Will Hunting is a movie that works in its large emotional moments through sheer non-quantifiable factors. More than anything I think that fans of Mr. Affleck’s later directorial work will get a kick out of Good Will Hunting, I know I did.




8 responses to “Review: Good Will Hunting (1997)

  1. Some moments here feel like they were a bit too staged but other times, I felt like this movie really knew where it was going and worked very well with it. Williams also gives one of his best performances ever and I wish he would just do more roles like this rather than getting stuck with that shtick that he always does. Good review Bill.

  2. I’ve liked Williams in a few things, even some of his comic roles, and I’m really interested in seeing him in World’s Greatest Dad.

  3. I’m in the camp that does like “Good Will Hunting” but more prefers Van Sant’s arty films though some of his mainstream films are pretty good.

  4. It’s certainly no Finding Forrester, that much is sure.

  5. I liked this movie, but didn’t love it. For me the biggest flaw is that I just didn’t find it believable that someone that intelligent would make decisions that dumb.

  6. I don’t know man, I’ve known plenty of people in my life who were extremely intelligent within their given fields who have tossed it all away because of sheer stupidity. I took more issue with the fact that he was presented as a genius in every field, that misconception of genius is way overrepresented in film.

  7. Just watched this and read your review. I think every shouting match didn’t leave them in the same position. Instead, every shouting match put cards on the table. It’s one thing to feel a certain way and it’s another to let other people know how you feel. And getting something out in the open is progress. One of the main issues in the film was how Will would divert attention from himself and attack the other persons weakness so him having a shouting match about something personal was a relatively important milestone. Your remarks about Gus van sant are spot on though. What are the other flaws you found in the movie besides this?

  8. It’s been so long I’d honestly have to rewatch the movie to know for sure.

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