To properly look at the legendary career of Sean Connery, one must dive into at least one of his more dramatic roles. Finding Forrester feels like a good fit in more ways than one. It was the last well-received live-action performance of his career, while also being the first acting gig for actor Rob Brown. It’s the movie that helped inspire one of the internet’s earliest meme sites, YTMND. And for me personally, since this movie’s main characters are writers, it has some personal meaning to me.
Finding Forrester, released in 2000, isn’t directly based on a true story. That said, Connery later acknowledged that author J.D. Salinger helped inspire his performance. As with a lot of dramatic movies, it didn’t reek in the big bucks, but it earned $80 million worldwide. It received positive reviews overall, including Two Thumbs Up from Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper. Roeper considered it one of the best 10 movies of the year, and in 2009, placed it at 64 for his 100 best movies of the decade.
There aren’t too many details on the production side of this movie, so let’s get into the movie itself.
Connery plays William Forrester, an author who is very famous for the one book he ever published, which is still considered a masterpiece. In the time since, he’s become a grumpy recluse, afraid to leave his own apartment. He’s pretty much an urban legend in the neighborhood. Brown plays Jamal Wallace, a 16-year-old black kid from the Bronx who downplays his potential as a gifted student to fit in with his friends better. He intentionally gets C’s on most of his tests, yet his SAT scores are impressive. He’s also got potential as a basketball player.
I won’t spoil exactly how the two meet, but Jamal impresses Forrester early on with his writing potential. He agrees to help mentor Jamal with his writing, in exchange for not asking about his life or telling anyone about their relationship. Meanwhile, Jamal is given a full academic scholarship to a high end private school, in hopes that he’d also join their basketball team. His writing improves rapidly, to the point where his arrogant English professor starts suspecting him of plagiarism.
As the movie goes on, Jamal and Forrester become good friends. Forrester learns to open up about his past and even leaves his apartment for the first time in years. He admits the traumatic inspiration for his first book, and how that also led him to become a recluse.
Both of the lead actors do a great job. Connery shows off his charisma with a couple lines that were unfortunately turned into memes, with “Punch the keys for God’s sake”, and “You’re the man now dog”. He also shows a lot of subtlety, especially when he suffers a panic attack when he finds himself in the middle of a crowd for the first time in decades, and later tears up while reading in front of an audience for the first time in his life. Brown plays the part of a somewhat lost 16-year-old well. He starts the movie off not knowing exactly what he wants to do, only that he’s smarter than any of his peers. He just wants to fit in, but he soon finds himself stuck between two worlds. On the one hand, he clearly loves writing. On the other hand, his conflict with Professor Robert Crawford brings out his fighting spirit. He’s convincing as a lost soul who just needs a proper mentor and a real direction for his goals in life.
On that note, F. Murray Abraham plays the arrogant professor well. He’s convincing as a smart, educated man who likes to hear himself talk. After Jamal beats him at his own game in front of the class, he’s a touch menacing while still trying to appear reasonable. It’s an intimidating performance in a subtle way. Anna Paquin (Rogue in the X-Men movies) plays a friend of Jamal’s at the private school. It’s kind of a typical Paquin performance, but that’s not a bad thing. Busta Rhymes plays Terrell, Jamal’s older brother and an aspiring rapper. He’s not in the movie much, but it’s no surprise that he’s good in that kind of role.
There isn’t anything surprising about the way this movie plays out. It’s somewhat similar to Good Will Hunting in that you’ve got a deep friendship that started off rough, between a young man with a lot of potential and an old man with a damaged past, where they both end up helping each other. It’s the performances and the genuinely good advice that make this movie work so well.
It can be really hard to make a movie about writing, seeing how sitting at a typewriter or a computer is up there with the least cinematic actions in existence. But this movie handles it quite well. The writing itself is shown in small doses, and some of the advice Forrester gives Jamal is right on point. For one, Forrester sometimes gets Jamal to start by copying one of his works word for word, and once his own words start popping in his head, he writes that instead. In his review, Ebert used his own words with “the muse visits during composition, not before.” There are also subtleties in the visuals, like Jamal’s book shelf complete with a wide variety of book genres. Almost every book is battered as if it’s been read frequently, with the exception of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake. At least according to some, it’s a book that everyone buys but nobody reads. Personally I never heard about it before, but that’s an amusing line from Ebert’s review.
I won’t spoil how the movie ends, but it’s a mix of a bittersweet ending and some open-ended potential for Jamal’s future. Overall it’s a great movie, and shows that not only did Connery still ooze with charisma till the day he retired, but he’s also a brilliant dramatic actor. This is an easy recommendation, especially with anyone reading this who is into writing, or fans of Sean Connery in general.
One could argue this would have been a good movie to end this month off with, especially with how the movie ends, which I won’t spoil even if it’s not exactly a huge surprise. Personally however, I’d rather end this month off with something weird. Before that, I’ll be looking at The Untouchables, a movie that shows both Connery’s acting skills and his action chops. Come to think of it, looking at The Untouchables before this one probably would have made more sense.
I haven’t seen this yet but it sounds like something that I should definitely add to my watchlist. The casting and story sounds very intriguing, and as you’ve said, it is indeed important to test out their more serious roles if we are to fully appreciate their talents!