For all his celebrated mania, I have to admit that I much prefer this quieter, more contemplative Robin Williams. Performances like this one, as well as his Walter Finch in Christopher Nolan’s remake of Erik Skjoldbjaerg’s Insominia, were always infinitely more intricate, alluding to, rather than explicitly showing, the near-uncontrollable kineticism within. From their own script, Ben Affleck and Matt Damon created a film that touched on everything from stagnant social mobility to class confliction, trust, trauma, aspiration, education, and everything in between.
Damon plays Will Hunting, a closet genius listlessly barrelling his way through life, who prefers fighting to Fermat, but who’s found himself nonetheless drawn to a janitor job at the prestigious MIT where he impulsively completes corridor maths problems Professor Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgård) has set for his class. Unable to ignore such a gross waste of extraordinary talent, Lambeau rescues Will from inevitable incarceration on the condition the pair work theories together in class, and weekly visits to a therapist. Will reluctantly agrees because, well yeah, the world can go fuck itself, but anything’s better than jail, right? After hiring a slew of shrinks, Lambeau begs his old college friend Sean Maguire (Williams) to take a shot, but Sean isn’t as easily taken down as his predecessors.
Having set up its mythological parameters, it’s not too hard to guess what comes next. The result should, by rights, be schmaltzy and wearing, but thanks to an incessant parade of winning turns – Affleck as Will’s best friend Chuckie, resigned to his fate, but deeply invested in that of his friend, Minnie Driver, eminently watchable as Skylar, a soon ex-Harvard pre-Stanford student who falls for Will, Skarsgård as the tunnel-visioned professor, and Damon and Williams whose scenes together feel like a duet of immeasurable beauty and complexity – Good Will Hunting emerges as a compelling and rather wondrous cinematic experience.
Words: Ash Verjee