Director: Gus Van Sant;
In this big surprise of the week (who would expect Sean Connery to come up with his Unforgiven at this stage), black Bronx high school student Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) meets William Forrester (Sean Connery), an odd neighbourhood resident. A reclusive novelist, hiding from the world since his first brush with fame, Forrester is a literary snob, a lout and a voyeur who loves to peep into neighbours' windows with his binoculars. Wallace is a scholar-athlete, a 16-year-old potential genius who sneaks into Forrester's rancid shrine on a dare. He then finds, after a series of encounters, an acerbic mentor in the scholar-degenerate.
The film could have slid into a condescending drama of a home-boy rescued by a white guru, but director Gus Van Sant avoids the cliches. He focuses instead on the friendship between two exceptional men separated by race and generation. It's a difficult relationship shot tightly in mid shots and close-ups, with a sudden top-angle wide, which emphasises the distance, appearing somewhere in the middle. Forrester is also a sensitive man trying to come to grips with some of the choices he made. Wallace, on the other hand, is negotiating hard with his talents—he is after all an ace basketball player and a gifted writer. He is called to an upmarket Manhattan institution on the basis of his test scores—it turns out that the school is more interested in the black kid winning a sports trophy.
By choosing a non-actor to essay Wallace's role, Sant succeeds in bringing a certain deadpanness to his role. Brown is consistent throughout without having to emote—it gives him the kind of cool intensity, which collates well with the tough situations Wallace has to face. One of them includes an unspoken attraction with a classmate (Anna Paquin) whose father is on the school board.
Finding Forrester is also unsentimental about Wallace's colour. It is, however, Forrester who intrigues you—it is rare to get his type in a leading role, and Sean Connery brings out the pungent irony latent in the character.
The problem, however, is the unusually low-key treatment towards the end—Sant is unable to hold the movie when Forrester sheds his reclusiveness to stand up for his friend. The climax looks hurried and you can see the austere tone actually giving way to a tame melodrama.