Are You With Us? Good Will Hunting

By Ryan Mazie

October 8, 2012

Solving The Bourne Variable

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When it comes to films being remade, it is usually always an action film or a fright flick; movies that rely on special effects or a time period specific scare. CGI has an inevitable shelf life to it until something more realistic and detailed comes out. Horror also faces the same predicament, with fears (such as nuclear war spawning mutants) eventually becoming outdated. However, there thankfully seems to be a lack of drama remakes, most likely because dramas focus on character and plot, which are just inherently timeless. A great example of this is the enduring drama Good Will Hunting. While times change (it is strange seeing a classroom without the effervescent glow of laptop screens), problems don’t (college hook-ups, cramming for the test, and of course – being a mathematical genius).

Up until now, I had never seen Good Will Hunting. While I am a Robin Williams fan, I was just never really enticed to watch a drama where, according to the IMDb logline: “Will Hunting (Matt Damon), a janitor at MIT, has a gift for mathematics but needs help from a psychologist (Robin Williams) to find direction in his life.” After watching it, I regret not listening to the critics earlier and giving the film’s yawn-inspiring description the benefit of the doubt. But before the praise, let me expand on the plot a little bit more for those like me who have shirked the film off.

Intellectually brilliant yet socially a Neanderthal, Will Hunting is a typical 20-year-old; drinking with his friends, getting into brawls, and picking up girls. However, his extraordinary mathematical abilities make this lifestyle beneath him in the eyes of MIT Professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), who prevents Will from being incarcerated for fighting if he studies mathematics and sees a therapist. Keeping his feelings locked up in the emotional equivalent of a maximum-security prison, Will goes through multiple therapists until he finally meets Sean Maguire (Williams), Lambeau’s estranged college roommate who is now a psychology professor at a community college.

As Maguire finds a way to overcome Hunting’s defense mechanisms, the two form a bond that the film goes on to chronicle.

With the characters driving the plot, Good Will Hunting is rich with local flavor that keeps the film chugging along, injecting humor in between the natural yet sobering monologues. Written by Boston buddies Ben Affleck and Matt Damon in their early 20s, Good Will Hunting is shockingly mature. While set in Boston and revolving around characters in their 20s, Affleck and Damon’s writing prowess was still doubted by some, with reports accusing writer William Goldman (The Princess Bride, Marathon Man, Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid) of writing the screenplay He fully denied these claims, calling them rumors spun out of jealousy.


Damon and Affleck won Oscar gold for their original screenplay, something Warner Bros hopes will happen once again for Affleck with this weekend’s thriller Argo. Damon, who leads the picture in a winning performance, scored a Best Actor nomination as well. Affleck has the smaller, less showy role, playing Hunter’s dim yet loyal construction worker pal. After Good Will Hunting, Damon went on to star in prestigious pictures such as The Talented Mr. Ripley, The Legend of Bagger Vance, and All the Pretty Horses, providing him career longevity.

Affleck took the banner route, signing onto explosive projects such as Armageddon, Reindeer Games, and Pearl Harbor in between generic romantic comedies, until diminishing returns on his big-budget flicks (and a Bennifer PR blitz – anyone else remember those days?) landed him on the lower rungs on the Hollywood star ladder. But now, Affleck seems to be hitting his second stride, stepping behind the camera and directing himself in more prestigious (yet mainstream) fare like The Town.

I figured that Good Will Hunting would be a good movie to watch, watching Affleck’s first big break and seeing how he has brought his career full circle, wearing hats both on and off the camera once again.

Williams won an Oscar for his brilliant portrayal that I found the most winning aspect of the film, pulling everything together. No other actor could make rather lengthy monologues seem as forward moving and captivating as Williams, making the movie truly click. Minnie Driver (who I think should have fired her agent for squandering her star with less-than-worthy projects) also received a nomination for Best Supporting Actress. Playing Damon’s love interest who is a catalyst for his character to get his life on track, Driver and Damon (who fell in love on set) nail an emotional break-up scene that shows the potential the two young actors have in store. Something sparks whenever the two are on screen, justifying the existence of some extended throwaway scenes between the two lovers, making the film run over the two-hour mark.

Gus Van Sant directs with minimal flare and a decidedly ’90s look, exemplified by a slow-mo, cheesy fight scene. However, I found myself slowly brought into the world, feeling like a fly on the wall. Van Sant went on to get an Oscar nomination.

The future best picture nominee was put into limited release on December 5, 1997, adding theaters to reach a wide release throughout January and February. With a slow but steady pace, within 14 weeks, Good Will Hunting cracked the $100 million mark. In the end, the film wrapped up with $138.4 million ($241.8 million today) with an additional $87.5 million coming in from overseas. Made for a reported $10 million, Good Will Hunting became one of Miramax’s biggest hits since Pulp Fiction and still ranks as the now-defunct company’s third highest-grosser.

Although I found the story to be fairly predictable, the richness of the characters transcends the narrative. Motivational without being preachy and moving without being tear-jerking, Good Will Hunting is a crowd-pleasing drama at its finest.

Verdict: With Us
8 out of 10



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