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Finding Forrester

reviewed by Lynn Barker

16-year-old acting newbie Rob Brown wasn't intimidated by acting with Sean Connery and, according to director Gus Van Sant, he could memorize a script page in maybe half a minute. Hollywood, here comes the boy from the Bronx.

JAMAL WALLACE (Rob Brown) is a very bright kid with athletic and writing talent who, being Black and from a tough area in the Bronx, New York, is expected to claw his way up in the world through his basketball expertise alone. He spends his time shooting hoops and hanging with hip hop home buds (rapper Lil' Zane among them) but, secretly, he's filling notebook pages with his stories.

The guys keep noticing a pair of binoculars watching their games from the window of an upper-story apartment. They nickname the watcher "The Window" and dare Jamal to sneak into his apartment. He does so and, eventually, becomes friends with the eccentric recluse who turns out to be once-famous novelist WILLIAM FORRESTER (Sean Connery) who disappeared after publishing a critically-acclaimed first novel years ago. Forrester recognizes Jamal's rough literary talent and helps him fine tune it.

When Jamal is accepted into a posh prep school (they want him to round out their basketball team), one of his teachers PROFESSOR CRAWFORD (F. Murray Abraham) spots his writing talent and, threatened by it, sets out to intimidate and stifle the new student. With the support of TERRELL, his blue-collar, hard working older brother (played by Busta Rhymes), CLAIRE, a rich classmate with a crush on him (played by Anna Pacquin), and his new mentor Forrester, Jamal, excels. With a chance to win a writing contest at stake, he must decide if he'll follow his dream or betray a friend and Forrester must choose whether or not to remain shut off from the world or fight old demons and re-enter it with new eyes.

Have you ever had a really good teacher; one who makes you believe you have what it takes to achieve your dreams? If you have, you'll identify with Jamal and his mentor Forrester. You'll also like Jamal's friends. The guys in this film aren't gang-bangers, just kids doing the best with what they have. Jamal rises above the rest but never acts superior and you root for him to reach his goals. Forrester, as played by Connery, is alternately funny, sad and inspiring. Anna Pacquin's character isn't too well developed but she's likable as a rich girl who is the first at the new school to befriend and support Jamal. Oscar-winner (Amadeus) F. Murray Abraham is a great villain as the kind of overbearing teacher we've all had and hate.

Like Van Sant's earlier film GOOD WILL HUNTING and the great Robin Williams flick DEAD POET'S SOCIETY, this movie shows the little guy, often from the other side of the tracks, whupping serious snotty prep school ass! It's very satisfying. It's also cool to know that the screenwriter sold "Forrester", his first script to Hollywood after winning a competition. Some of this film is a little slow, but the journey and pay off at the end is worth it.

Opens January 12

Rated: PG-13

Directed by: Gus Van Sant ("Good Will Hunting", "To Die For", "Drugstore Cowboy")
Screenplay by: Mike Rich
Starring: Sean Connery as William Forrester
Rob Brown as Jamal Wallace
Anna Pacquin as Claire
F. Muray Abraham as Professor Crawford
Busta Rhymes as Terrell Wallace
Michael Nouri as Dr. Spence
also starring Lil' Zane

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