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Finding Forrester

Starring Sean Connery, Rob Brown and F. Murray Abraham
Screenplay by Mike Rich
Directed by Gus Van Sant

IN SHORT: An emotional flatline. [Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references. 136 minutes]

We let the television drone on in the background while we spent the day writing. At one point an ad for a movie came on screaming something along the lines of "An athlete and a recluse ... together they join to fight the system!" The ad was for the film reviewed here, Finding Forrester, and the tag is absolute rubbish.

Sometimes we get a sense that a big screen movie would have been better suited to the theatrical stage. Such is the case with Finding Forrester which, for better than three quarters of its running time is a two character story of a ghetto kid with potential and a reclusive author who has never left the deteriorating neighborhood that both share. In the ghetto where b'ball skills are more prized than intellectual abilities Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) exhibits some of the former and no exceptional skills in the latter. When his single mom is called down to the school, she fears the worst.

The news is far worse than anything she imagined. Her son's test scores were through the proverbial roof. A ritzy downtown private school offers a full scholarship, seeking to help develop the latent skills in the kidlet. Oh, if he wouldn't mind playing ball for the varsity squad, so much the better . . . Jamal doesn't want to go downtown. His older brother Terrell (Busta Rhymes) a maintenance man at Yankee stadium, tells him he's nuts not to. In the new world there's the former top dog of the team to deal with and new friendships to form, including a very supportive one with Claire Spence (Anna Paquin), daughter of the school's headmaster (Michael Nouri).

In the hood, though, Jamal has just been forced into a no-man's land. To show he's still down with his homies he breaks into an apartment where a crazy old white dude has lived for years. The task is to take something, anything, from the apartment. Since the fire escape window is open, the place is easy pickings. The apartment is dirty and dusty and stacks of books go floor to ceiling. While he's fascinated by the library all around him, Jamal is interrupted and flees, leaving vital evidence behind. His backpack and, inside it, a notebook in which he writes.

The occupant of the apartment is William Forrester (Sean Connery) a legendary novelist of the J.D. Salinger type. One novel published and beloved. Nothing more. Forrester doesn't press burglary charges. He corrects Jamal's writing and from there a friendship slowly begins to form. Not only does Jamal's writing improve, it does so to such an extent that Professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), who never liked the idea of Jamal's presence at the school, is convinced that the kidlet is cheating. Crawford and Forrester have history and while we know all the details, Crawford has no clue.

All this brings us to the Third Act where, can you sense it?, there should be fireworks. The biggest problem for us is that Finding Forrester maintains such an even keel, that there are no confrontations. There are no major emotional ups and downs. Even when things go alternately bad or good, there's no elation or devastation to accompany the actions. Perhaps director Gus Van Sant deliberately didn't want to go the route that is the norm. Perhaps not. We're baffled about this one. Looking at the notes, in black and white on a printed page, this movie had potential up the wazoo. It utilizes none of it.

On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Eight Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Finding Forrester, he would have paid...


Finding Forrester stays in the arthouse.

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