Although now Matt Damon is a bona fide superstar with an action trilogy and a heist trilogy both securely under his belt, there was a time when he wasn't so well known as to have his own marionette in Team America. With a few bit parts and a couple of supporting roles behind him, Damon had yet to make any sort of lasting mark on cinema. Ben Affleck, similarly, hadn't yet moved into the legitimate public eye, despite roles in Chasing Amy and Dazed and Confused. Then there was Good Will Hunting.
The story follows a South Boston construction worker with an unusual gift for mathematics. After he's discovered by an MIT professor and put under his supervision as a result of an assault charge, he's suddenly faced with a lot of important decisions.
Gus Van Sant's direction here is flawlessly old school. Long, lingering shots with minimalist camera work and just the right amount of emotion makes for some beautifully restrained work. Think David Fincher's work with the Social Network but with less cutting. The nature of the film demands a careful balance of humour and emotion and Van Sant never drops the ball. When it's supposed to be funny, you'll be laughing. When you're meant to be sad, there will be tears. Despite his often childlike apporach to the material, he is able to be unflinchingly mature in the moments that call for it. It's this versatility which is the mark of a great director that Van Sant displays so intuitively here.
Good Will Hunting also features one of Danny Elfman's more diverse compositions, a bittersweet combination of keys and strings with a lilting pipe tune which stays with you for a while. It may verge on twee on the odd occassion but it's used with enough restraint that it doesn't become a crutch or substitute for real emotion. The real standout of the soundtrack is Elliott Smith's Oscar nominated song "Miss Misery." Hitting just the right note, his full stop at the end of the film is sweetly depressing as well as marking a new chapter for our main character.
Speaking of the Academy Awards, one of the biggest draws of the film is the Oscar winning script penned by Matt Damon and Ben Affleck. Thirteen years on and it's still as powerful as it ever was, managing to walk the line between stilted and realistic with an uncanny instinct for everyday conversations and natural dialogue. Even Will's super smart outbursts are grounded by the film's realistic feel. But the screenplay's greatest achievement is the raw emotion that it is capable of evoking. Scenes such as Skylah and Will's fight in the dorm room linger in the mind long after the final credits have rolled. In particular the dialogue between Will and Sean is incredibly powerful, their exchanges both layered and meaningful. Their relationship development is incredibly rewarding, moving from the sizing up of two boys from Southie to two friends with grace and realism. The elegance and simplicity of the plot is astoundingly straightforward with no sudden, attention seeking twists or unstable divergences, instead focussing on extracting every moment of nuance and emotion from various conversations between the characters. It's an incredible achievement, especially in light of the fact that it's the writing debut of Damon and Affleck.
The two of them don't let down in the acting department either, with both of them turning in brilliant performances. Damon's character is the main character of the piece and as such his performance is more rewarding in depth and evolution but Affleck does well with the screentime allotted to him. He is funny and loudmouthed as well as playing the role of Will's best friend with uncharacteristic restraint. Damon's performance easily outshines him, however, moving from dangerously inflamed to easy-going with style. Jason Bourne may be his best known character but his performance here is so beautifully vulnerable and simply realistic that it's easily his best performance to date. His love interest in the film is a delightful Minnie Driver who is able to evoke a goofy sense of humour at times while being undeniably powerful in the more emotional scenes. But the star here is Robin Williams, the manic stand-up bringing forth an incredible performance filled with nuance and humour as well as depth and vulnerability. His delivery of some exquisitely crafted speeches make an incredible document almost obsolete with such astounding timing and realism that it's difficult to tell where the acting ends and Williams begins. He is quietly, understatedly brilliant in the midst of an incredible cast.
With an eternally brilliant script, beautiful direction and amazing performances all round, Good Will Hunting is as close to perfect as movies get.
Tough one to pick but it has to be Sean and Will's second meeting. A rivetting piece of acting from Williams combined with one of the best monologues in the film.
Do you like apples?
Well, I got her number. How do you like them apples?
I read your book last night.
So you're the one.
What if I said I wouldn't have sex with you again 'til I got to meet your friends; what would you say?
I'd say it's 4:30 in the morning; they're probably up.
Real loss is only possible when you love something more than you love yourself.
You're legally allowed to drink now, so we figured the best thing for you was a car.
Look - you're my best friend, so don't take this the wrong way. In twenty years, if you're still livin' here, comin' over to my house to watch the Patriots games, still workin' construction, I'll fuckin' kill you. That's not a threat; now, that's a fact. I'll fuckin' kill you.
So this is a Harvard bar, huh? I thought there'd be equations and shit on the wall.
See, the sad thing about a guy like you is in fifty years you're gonna start doin some thinkin on your own and you're gonna come up with the fact that there are two certainties in life. One, don't do that. And two, you dropped a hundred and fifty grand on a fuckin education you coulda got for a dollar fifty in law away charges at the public library.
Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll take a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. Maybe I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had no problem with, get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Oh, send in the Marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a shit. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number got called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some kid from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ass. And he comes back to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ass got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And, of course, the oil companies used the skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. And they're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, of course, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and fuckin' play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's got to walk to the fuckin' job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ass is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin', 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat, the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what did I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure fuck it, while I'm at it why not just shoot my buddy, take his job, give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president.