Another Great Role for Connery
Strange things are happening --- and Iím not referring to Wís election. A bigger surprise is the current interest in films about writers. During the past twelve months, Almost Famous, Wonder Boys, and Joe Gouldís Secret --- each depicting the frustrations of the writing profession --- have made it to the big screen. In the upcoming Chinese Coffee, Al Pacino and Jerry Orbach play wannabe writers arguing about their literary skills. The most inspirational addition to this impressive list is Finding Forrester, starring the legendary Sean Connery. Although difficult to imagine writing as a dramatic activity, Connery makes it seem so in the challenging role of a reclusive novelist mentoring a gifted African-American student.
Watching Connery in any movie is a real treat for me. His deep voice with its lingering Scottish accent, his ageless good looks, and his overwhelming charisma make the characters he plays seem larger than life. Was there ever a more dashing James Bond? Or a more sophisticated thief than the one he portrayed in Entrapment? Or a more compelling FBI helper than that wise Irish-American cop in The Untouchables (his Oscar-winning performance)? I think not, and Conneryís latest turn as William Forrester ranks right up there with those other fine performances.
The real test of a good actor is the ability to make viewers forget about his stardom while watching a particular film or play. As Forrester, Connery inhabits his role so completely I actually felt cooped up in that Bronx apartment with him, and I wasnít a bit happy about it. Who wants to spend time with a cranky recluse, especially one who wears his socks inside out, constantly stares out the window onto a neighborhood basketball court below, and takes pleasure in frightening everyone by his mysterious behavior?
Fortunately, things change for this eccentric novelist when Jamal (Rob Brown), a teenage scholar-athlete, enters his life. Breaking and entering Forresterís apartment on a dare, Jamal accidentally leaves his backpack there. Forrester, who wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel 50 years ago but nothing since, returns Jamalís property after making notes in the ladís journal. Because Jamal has ambitions to be an author, he persuades Forrester to mentor him. But whoís mentoring whom? Through interactions with Jamal, Forrester finally gains enough courage to re-enter the world.
From this simple story by radio broadcaster Mike Rich comes a wealth of valuable messages about education, integrity, and friendship. Sharing a love of the written word, Forrester and Jamal overcome barriers of age and race to help each other become better human beings and reach their goals. As one character in the film explains, "Family isnít always what youíre born with. Sometimes itís the people you find, and sometimes itís the people who find you."
Brown makes a fine acting debut here by projecting a brashness tempered with sensitivity thatís just right for the role of Jamal. In scenes where the brilliant student confronts a pompous instructor (F. Murray Abraham) who accuses him of plagiarism, Brown reminded me of an intense young actor from days of yore --- his name, Sidney Poitier. And Abraham (Amadeus) gave me chills again as a jealous villain. I think he has the best haughty sneer in all filmdom!
Director Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) made only one mistake with Finding Forrester. He allowed his film to run too long at two hours and sixteen minutes. Scenes showing Anna Paquin (X-Men) as Jamalís sympathetic classmate add little to the plot and could have been omitted. Still, this is a minor criticism. It should not keep Connery fans from Finding Forrester.
(Released by Columbia Pictures and rated "PG-13" for brief strong language and some sexual references.)