Good Will Hunting (1997)

9db12-good_will_hunting_theatrical_posterGood Will Hunting is an extraordinary story on multiple levels because it is about the little guy. The trajectory of a lowly janitor being propelled to MIT genius is moving no matter how often it gets copied or imitated. It just never gets old. Then, there is the story of two young unknowns named Matt Damon and Ben Affleck who shot to fame thanks to some big dreams and a few mentors. Now they are two of the top names in Hollywood over 15 years later and they continue to be (Gone Girl and Interstellar are proof).

However, back then they were a long shot with only a solid idea for a film. It worked wonderfully though because of its core themes. It’s about friendship. It’s about romance. It’s about fear and aspirations. It’s about vulnerability. It’s about long shots making the most of their lives. Admittedly, that could be almost any film so there’s a need to bring the microscope in a little closer.

At face value Will Hunting (Matt Damon) seems like a young thug from South Boston who loves his beer, buddies, broads, and brawls. He and his friends including Chuckie (Ben Affleck) spend their days trying to make ends meet and fill the rest of their time with the aforementioned. We get glimpses of a different Will, however, a brilliant young man holding a plethora of book knowledge and blessed with a photographic memory. He’s able to philosophize rings around conceited Harvard students catching the eyes of a cute British girl named Skylar (Minnie Driver). They are a sweet couple and it seems like it might add up to something good.

Then, comes the necessarily fateful day when Will solves the unsolvable equation on the MIT wall, following that feat with a brawl fight that lands him with a potential jail term hanging over his head. It’s a strange dichotomy and it deeply surprises Professor Gerald Lambeux who quickly realizes the unassuming genius that is Will Hunting. He’s fantastic, but in order to utilize his potential Lambeux agrees to have him meet weekly with a therapist.

What follows is an absurd string of therapy sessions where Will, who wants none of this analysis, makes a mockery of his psychologists. When Lambeux’s former roommate and last resort Sean Maguire (Robin Williams) is called in it looks like more of the same.  But he is different. He sees something more and Sean is not about to give up on the kid. Their sessions begin as a battle of wills until Will’s defenses finally break down. They construct something beautiful, something real,  and in many ways vulnerable.

It is then that Sean teaches Will about true love and living life with no regrets. He had a wife who passed away from cancer, and he is hardly a big name academic, but he wouldn’t trade his life for anything. That’s enough for him. All the while, in between sessions, Will must figure out his life whether he wishes to work in the stuffy world of academia with professor Lambeux, continue living with his chums in Southie, or move forward with Skylar who is off to Stanford soon.

Sean doesn’t force him into one decision or another but he gives him personal advice. As a young man, he met a pretty girl in a bar, the same day in 1975 that Carlton Fisk hit his famed home run. But Sean gave up his seat to spend that evening with a girl and it paid off. She would be his wife for all those happy years before she came down with cancer. In Will’s eyes, and perhaps even the eyes of the audience, he was utterly insane to pass that up, but for Sean, there were no regrets. That’s enough.

On the verge of turning 21, there are so many choices, thoughts, feelings, and fears swirling around. Not to mention Will’s ugly past as a foster kid full of abuse and a heavy rap sheet. It’s the steady and pragmatic consoling of Sean where he finds relief. Sean will not be quelled in reminding him, “It’s not his fault.” That’s simply the hand he was dealt.

In another beautiful scene that is oft cited, Chuckie tells his friend, in the most genuine way that he can, that he doesn’t want Will to stick around. Because, the reality is, Will has been given a ticket out of Boston, and it would be a knock to all of his friends if he stayed around. On the day Chuckie won’t need a note. He’ll have satisfaction enough that his friend will be gone. To this day, it still feels a tad corny, but it works within the film so I will go with it.

Down the line, Sean receives a sincere note in his mailbox and Chuckie walks up the steps to Will’s place and no one answers. No one needs to say anything because they all know Will has gone to follow his dreams. Go west young man after the girl you love and take a chance. No regrets. It is the perfect ending for this film and at the same time the most aggravating.

Robin Williams was an obvious standout in this film, and it saddens me to think that he is no longer with us. I think I appreciate him most in his dramatic roles because he is so genuinely funny it comes out organically. He is a great counter to Matt Damon. Without that dynamic, this would be a far less noteworthy film. Also, the script is full of quips and a great balance of intellectual and laymen terms making for a unique story. It takes time to acknowledge the idiosyncrasies and pain that are a reality of human existence.  That’s why it hits home. Hopefully, Will as well as all of us find what we are hunting for.

4/5 Stars

Gone Girl (2014)

b15ec-gone_girl_posterMy only advice for Gone Girl is to leave all your preconceived notions at the theater entrance because you are about to be blown out of the water. This is not the movie you were expecting–probably very few people were.
The story is based on the source novel of Gillian Flynn who also happened to be the film’s screenwriter. Behind the camera is mystery-thriller phenom David Fincher (Se7en, Zodiac) directing his two stars Ben Affleck (Argo) and Rosamund Pike (Pride and Prejudice).
From the beginning, we get a personal view into the married life of Nick and Amy Dunne. Back in 2005, the romance was just beginning to bud. Now on their 5th wedding anniversary, Amy is gone. Nick is the obvious culprit and we suspect him from the outset of the film, but why would he call in the police to search for his wife? He seems genuinely worried and befuddled by it all.
Soon the police are being taken on a treasure hunt while the whole town becomes frenzied behind the giant media carnival which is having open season on the find Amy campaign. The underlying tension of every present day sequence makes for a nerve-wracking procedural juxtaposed with the romantic journal entries of the gone girl. The race to find Amy is on with the days counting down and Nick collaborating with Detective Boney (Kim Dickens).
By this point, it is insanely difficult to catch up with the narrative because just when a conclusion seems certain a new wrinkle is inserted. There are no givens. Is Nick good? Who is Amy really? Who Knows?
Fincher’s film has one last grand ploy. It shows its hand earlier rather than later, feeding its audience one juicy twist. Far from being done, it continues to follow the fate of poor Nick and Amazing Amy. Gone Girl grows more and more uncomfortable as the days pass and not for the reason you would suspect. On the surface, life seems perfectly normal once more to the still clamoring media, but it’s not the first time that the cameras and reporters fail to see what is really going on.

This is one of the most intense dramas that has come out in years and it in many ways functions as a thriller, a black comedy, and even a satire of the media. The often grisly depictions of violence make the proceeding moments of laughter all that more uncomfortable. Fincher made thrillers before, but nothing quite like this. It’s fidget-inducing, spine-tingling, and utterly perplexing.
4/5 Stars

Argo (2012)

339c3-argo2012posterDirected and starring Ben Affleck, this historical thriller is based on the real events revolving around the Iranian Hostage Crisis that erupted in 1979. After a brief interlude, we are thrown right into the fray outside the U.S. Embassy in Tehran where nationalists are protesting vehemently. They break in and it becomes frantic insides as files must be burned and help must be found.

 Soon they are overrun and 69 hostages are taken, however, six Americans were able to escape and then seek refuge with the Canadian ambassador. From that point on the CIA must figure out how to get them out as they monitor the tense situation from home. All ideas seem doomed to failure, and soon an ex-filtration specialist named Tony Mendez (Affleck) is brought in. He has one wild idea, but it is the only one with a chance. 

With the help of a Hollywood makeup artist and film producer, he begins to create a fake movie so he can get the six out as part of a movie crew scoping out exotic locations. With this daring plan in mind the sci-fi film Argo is born, and Mendez heads to Iran. He must race against the clock because the Revolutionaries are near to discovering that some Americans are missing. Furthermore, his plan leaves the refugees skeptical and scared. Mendez is able to get them all on board as part of the film crew, and he preps them with fake Canadian identities, passports, and rapid-fire interrogations. Everyone is tense as they get ready for the day of departure because so many things could go wrong. The CIA shuts down the operation, but Mendez is adamant to keep on as planned. 

Despite some setbacks, interrogation, and near catastrophes, they miraculously make it to their flight and after one last tense moment, they enter airspace, officially safe, mission complete, and able to drink alcoholic beverages again. The six return to the U.S. amidst much fanfare and Tony Mendez returned an unsung hero. 

I found this film entertaining, tense, and fascinating. This is a part of American and international history that is seemingly glossed over and it needs to be known. I felt the film created an atmosphere that reflected the 1970s very well whether it was news broadcasts, sponsor spots for the Love Boat, mentions of John Wayne, or allusions to such films as Network, Kramer vs. Kramer, Star Wars, and Planet of the Apes. 

I know films like Argo can never be completely accurate, but it is amazing how close so many of the actors looked to their real-life counterparts. Furthermore, I did not feel I was being fed one side of the story. As with any international situation, both Iran and the U.S. were at fault. Ultimately, there was a happy resolution on January 21, 1981, and Mendez finally gained recognition.
4.5/5 Stars