Matt Damon and Ben Affleck return to their personal roots of South Boston for this character-driven dramatic piece. Director Gus Van Sant enters into this world with them, and with us, as we learn about love, life, the human psyche, and above all, friendship.
Damon and Affleck (who wrote the script together and won an Oscar for it, despite large suspicion of a ghost writer taking on the lion’s share of the work), along with Casey Affleck (Ben’s brother) and Cole Hauser, portray 4 guys who are the kind of friends that stick to one another’s ribs. They would probably grow old and die in Southie if it weren’t for Will Hunting (Damon) and his pesky gift for mathematics. A run-in with the law gives Hunting the option of jail time or dividing his time between cracking mathematical codes and meeting with psychologist Sean Maguire, played by Robin Williams who picked up an Academy Award for his incredible performance in this role. Maguire breaks through Hunting’s emotional walls, helping him to finally understand his past, his future and his girl (Minnie Driver).
I’ve heard people complain about Van Sant’s directing style in this film, but I found it spectacular. The ceiling shot when Maguire tells the story of Pudge Fisk in Game 6. The intimacy of Will Hunting’s breakdown moment. The ducks. And the line of mathematicians begging for Hunting’s assistance when Chuckie (B. Affleck) poses as Will and tells the men to “keep [their] ear to the grindstone.”
Additionally, Minnie Driver shines so brightly as the girl that everyone always wanted, many fellas walked out of the theatre with a new crush. She’s given some fine performances since, but nothing quite this pure.
Personally, I saw this film 8 times in the theatre. There have been many films since that have attempted to steal its charm, but none have pulled off the feeling you get when Chuckie knocks on Will’s door or when Maguire checks his mailbox.