Yesterday, this column reviewed "Mystic River," which is set in Boston and focuses on working-class families entrenched in an often inflexible culture. In 1997, Boston was the setting for "Good Will Hunting," another film that depicted the challenges faced by friends from the meaner streets of the city as one is granted an opportunity to move up the economic, social and educational ladder.
"Good Will Hunting" stars Matt Damon in the title role. He is an extremely smart, but bitter twenty-year old who works as a janitor at the prestigious Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). One day, the self-taught genius sees an advanced mathematics problem on a board outside a classroom, and he solves it. Shortly after this, he gets in a fight and goes to jail. The math professor, Gerald Lambeau (played by Stellan Skarsgard), believes he is capable of great academic achievements, so he intervenes on his behalf. He speaks to the judge, who allows Will to be released on the condition that the bitter young man work with Gerald on more advanced math problems. Also, much to Will's dismay, the release terms require him to undergo therapy. Several psychiatrists find working with Will to be unpleasant and unproductive. So Gerald turns to his estranged college roommate, Sean Maguire (played by Robin Williams), a widowed psychology professor who grew up in circumstances similar to Will's. Although they do not immediately bond, it becomes clear that they will bring out the best in each other.
"Good Will Hunting" features a great performance by Matt Damon. Will emerges as ferociously smart and likeable, but with a clear tendency to sabotage any opportunities to separate him from his friends and their very predictable futures. Robin Williams is equally strong as Sean, his caring, but somewhat ill-tempered shrink. Ben Affleck also gives a strong performance as Will's friend who becomes a motivating force for his success. Another memorable performance is by Minnie Driver, who plays Will's dynamic English girlfriend.
With a great story, great characters, and great performances, "Good Will Hunting" is a highly entertaining film.