There aren’t a lot of good movies out there about writing. Archaeologists have “Indiana Jones,” those boring, know-it-all mathematicians have “A Beautiful Mind,” stockbrokers have “Wall Street,” and criminals have the “Ocean’s 11” movies. So when a decent movie about writing comes along, call me crazy, but I like to have it acknowledged. I’m doing just that this week by talking about a great movie about writing, “Finding Forrester.” It was directed by Gus Van Sant, and stars Sean Connery, Rob Brown, and F. Murray Abraham.
“Forrester” tells the story of Jamal, a teenager from the Bronx who’s as smart as anyone you’d meet at a Harvard or a Yale, the only problem is he’s embarrassed by it. Mainly because his friends aren’t in the same league as he is, and he only wants to fit in. He purposely does just enough in school to get by with a C-average, however all of that changes once his grades from a standardized test come back as high as can be and he begins attending a private school. Overnight, he goes from fitting in to standing out, and it’s not such an easy transition.
Before that happens, though, he’s dared by his friends to break into the local urban legend’s house and steal something. An old man who lives alone, known only as the “Window” (Connery) because he’s only seen peeking out from behind his curtain from time to time to look upon the people outside of his apartment. I call him an urban legend because he’s the neighbor everybody has a story about.
Jamal breaks in when he thinks the Window is asleep, but gets surprised when he finds out that he’s not. In the race to escape, his backpack is left behind, along with some of his writing in it. I won’t reveal how he gets his backpack back, but when he does, Jamal discovers that the elusive Window has read his writings and left behind some berating, albeit constructive, criticism. Intrigued, Jamal returns to speak with him, and eventually the two form a bond.
Back at the private school, Jamal’s first assignment is to read a novel, in the movie one of the greatest novels ever written, penned by a man who essentially disappeared after writing it: William Forrester. And as luck would have it, he resembles the mysterious Window. Jamal makes a deal with Window/Forrester that he won’t tell anyone about “finding” him, as long he continues to help him with his writing. Amidst all of the camaraderie, however, there is an antagonist. And he comes in the form of a real hard case English teacher, played by F. Murray Abraham. He doesn’t believe that Jamal could possibly be as good as he actually is, and once he accuses him of plagiarism, the only one who can set the record straight is a certain elusive Mr. Forrester. But will he do it, or will he continue to remain someone who merely peeks out from behind a curtain?
I’ll let you find that out on your own, suffice to say that overall you’ll enjoy watching this movie. It was the second to last film Connery starred in before he retired, and if only this had come out after “League of Extraordinary Gentleman,” then it could be said that he went out with a bang rather than a bomb.
A neat little factoid about this film is about its second lead, Rob Brown. At the age of 16, this was his first movie, and he was only auditioning to play an extra. The reason? To get money to help pay off his $300 phone bill The filmmakers were so taken with his audition that they cast him in the lead opposite Connery, and voila — you have what can actually be called a Hollywood success story. That’s a very rare thing of late, but so far it’s worked out for him, and I’m glad, because he’s a very talented actor, as you’ll bear witness to when you watch this movie.
“Finding Forrester”, whether or not you like reading or writing, or even appreciate either one, is a film you should watch not because it glorifies any one thing, but because it’s a good film, much like “A Beautiful Mind,” “Wall Street,” “Indiana Jones,” and maybe the “Ocean’s” movies. Maybe you shouldn’t put the “Ocean” movies in that category, and don’t even think about putting that last “Indiana Jones” in there.
Bottom line, it’s an entertaining, moving, and inspiring movie that has a lot of heart, and a lot of Sean Connery doing what he does best: talking. Hey, if you had a brogue I’d be interested in hearing what you had to say, too. But you don’t, so you’re going to do what I say and watch this movie. If you’re too lazy to read a book, then you might as well watch a movie about some people who write them.
Joe Altomere is a freelance movie writer for The Banner and some of our company’s Web sites. His column is published in The Banner each Saturday.