Pros: Wow, wow, wow to the dialogue. Flawless execution by Damon and Williams.
Cons: It's all in your head.
Almost any movie, no matter how far away from serious it may be, has at least one good profound moment. The great thing about Good Will Hunting is that the entire thing feels like one big long profound moment. I may be ahead of myself in saying this is the best screenplay ever written, but it's definitely one of the best I've read/seen in my life.
Matt Damon plays Will Hunting, a mathematical wizard who doesn't wholly grasp the magnitude of his own power. He is a kid from the streets who drinks with the fellas and maybe picks up a few girls along the way. Now and then, he has found himself getting arrested and facing the Judge. But he is smart enough to defend himself in a court of law and has had countless cases against him thrown out. So ya see, there is far more to his character than uh, beats the eye.
One day, Will Hunting solves a theorem (basically a really hard math problem) at the school where he works as a janitor. This attracts the attention of a certain Professor Gerald Lambeau, played by a cynical and fatigued Stellan Skarsgård. He had posed the theorem for his class, hoping someone would solve it by the end of the semester. And here Will just did it in a matter of hours.
The first interactions between Will and the Professor aren't very pleasant, but Lambeau shows up just in time to relieve Will of an impending jail sentence, on the condition that Will works with him and sees a therapist.
And that's how Robin Williams comes to be a part of this whole thing. He plays Sean Maguire, the scruffy-faced therapist who has fond memories of his wife farting and can bench press 285. Turns out he also has a troubled past and a longstanding rivalry with Professor Lambeau. But Lambeau has been through five therapists already, all of whom Will was able to scare off (the "Afternoon Delight" scene is simply hilarious). But after the first session, Sean is not about to back down. He's gonna take Will on. Ain't it funny how stubbornness can be such a positive trait?
This is not a traditional one-on-one conflict, but more or less a "triangle" of conflicts. The heart alone faces two enemies -- the head, and the testosterone, who in turn face each other. As you can probably guess, Sean represents the heart, Will is the testosterone and Prof. Lambeau is the head. And yet stranger still, the conflicts that happen between the two most immature sides, the head and the testosterone, end up being the most subdued.
On the other hand, there are moments when the characters get along, and it makes you feel there is really something worth grasping for. Usually, you'll hear two people arguing, getting nowhere, and you probably think to yourself, "Why don't they just move 3,000 miles apart?" But watch the way Will and the Professor team up on a math problem; these guys could be best friends in the world if not for the difference of background. Not a difference of race or gender, but a difference of background. Maybe that's all there really is separating us.
Most of the conflict here centers around the idea that with Will's ability, he should be able to get any job in the world he wants, but Will has no desire to spend the rest of his life "doing long division" and "explaining stuff to people". "Do you have any idea how easy this is for me? This is a f**kin' joke," he explains. By the movie's end, you will have seen all sides of the proverbial dodecagon. Even a character as seemingly unexplainable as the Professor gets a stellar line: "I am who I am today because I was pushed and because I learned to push myself!"
More emotional resonance surfaces via Will's relationship with a girl, Skylar (Minnie Driver). Granted, I'm not a huge fan and I shudder to think of what her music sounds like. Plus her laugh takes some getting used to. But her performance in Good Will Hunting is simply outstanding. The costume shop and her cliffhanger joke are notable moments early on, but she and Matt together make the big "argument scene" a real heart-wrencher.
As a kind of rational voice on the side, Ben Assfleck plays Will's best friend Chuckie. In recent years, Ben has been typecast into metrosexual "pretty boy" roles (see Jersey Girl, Gigli, etc.) Here, he's more like a punk basically. But there's little doubt that he was better at that. There is a funny shot of him with all his teeth showing when he's in a fight at the beginning.
The only thing that might turn some people off is the foul language. I think there must be more foul language in Good Will Hunting than there is in a typical war movie. Face/Off made extensive use of the F-word, that's for sure. But it's nothing compared to this. Long story short, keep the kids out of the room. At least until they're 23 or something.
Psychology is a fascinating subject, as it applies to so much in life. It's perfectly understandable that some people wouldn't get into it, maybe because they've settled into a comfortable routine that doesn't require them to make a lot of little decisions about who they are or what their past means or what their future holds. And that's great, more power to them.
But most of us, I think no matter how much we cling to that illusion of living in the proverbial safety net of predictability, we still wonder what if. Maybe we even wonder why what if. For those who love a good psychological drama, it just plain doesn't get any better than Good Will Hunting.
My Best 10 Good Will Hunting Quotes
Some of the following quotes are extremely long (together, they're longer than my review, actually) and may contain spoilers. Just a warning!
Billy: You're legally allowed to drink now so we figured the best thing for you was a car.
Sean: Put it on my tab.
Tim: You ever plan on paying your tab?
Sean: Yeah, chief. I've got the winning lottery ticket right here.
Tim: What's the jackpot?
Sean: Twelve million.
Tim: I don't think that will cover it.
Sean: Yeah, but it'll cover your sex change operation!
(Sean has just finished describing the 12th inning of the Red Sox 1975 World Series, to which he had had tickets)
Will: I can't believe you had tickets to that game!
Will: Did you rush the field?
Sean: No, I didn't rush the field, I wasn't there.
Sean: No - I was in a bar havin' a drink with my future wife.
Will: You missed Pudge Fisk's homerun?
Sean: Oh yeah.
Will: To have a drink with some lady you never met?
Sean: Yeah, but you shoulda seen her. She was a stunner.
Will: I don't care if Helen of Troy walks in the room, that's game six!
Sean: Oh, Helen of Troy...
Will: Oh my God, and who are these friends of yours they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh... They had to.
Will: What'd you say to them?
Sean: I just slid my ticket across the table and I said, "Sorry guys, I gotta see about a girl."
Will: I gotta go see about a girl?
Will: That's what you said? And they let you get away with that?
Sean: Oh yeah. They saw in my eyes that I meant it.
Will: You're kiddin' me.
Sean: No, I'm not kiddin' you, Will. That's why I'm not talkin' right now about some girl I saw at a bar twenty years ago and how I always regretted not going over and talking to her. I don't regret the 18 years I was married to Nancy. I don't regret the six years I had to give up counseling when she got sick. And I don't regret the last years when she got really sick. And I sure as hell don't regret missin' the damn game.
Will: Do you play the piano?
Skylar: A bit.
Will: Okay, when you look at a piano you see Mozart, right?
Skylar: I see "Chopsticks."
Skylar: My father died when I was thirteen and I inherited this money. Did you ever think that everyday I wake up, that I wish I could give it back, that I would give it back in a second, if it meant I could have one more day with him? But I can't. And that's my life and I deal with it.
Will: He [foster father] used to just put a wrench, a stick and a belt on the table and say "Choose."
Sean: I've gotta go with the belt on that one.
Will: I used to go with the wrench.
Sean: Why the wrench?
Will: 'Cause f*ck him, that's why.
Will (prophetic quote on why he shouldn't work for N.S.A., and on a side note, the cut in the middle of this speech is awesome):
"Why shouldn't I work for the N.S.A.? That's a tough one, but I'll give it a shot. Say I'm working at N.S.A. Somebody puts a code on my desk, something nobody else can break. So I take a shot at it and maybe I break it. And I'm real happy with myself, 'cause I did my job well. But maybe that code was the location of some rebel army in North Africa or the Middle East. Once they have that location, they bomb the village where the rebels were hiding and fifteen hundred people I never met, never had a problem with get killed. Now the politicians are sayin', "Send in the marines to secure the area" 'cause they don't give a sh!t. It won't be their kid over there, gettin' shot. Just like it wasn't them when their number was called, 'cause they were pullin' a tour in the National Guard. It'll be some guy from Southie takin' shrapnel in the ^ss. And he comes home to find that the plant he used to work at got exported to the country he just got back from. And the guy who put the shrapnel in his ^ss got his old job, 'cause he'll work for fifteen cents a day and no bathroom breaks. Meanwhile, he realizes the only reason he was over there in the first place was so we could install a government that would sell us oil at a good price. And of course the oil companies used the little skirmish over there to scare up domestic oil prices. A cute little ancillary benefit for them, but it ain't helping my buddy at two-fifty a gallon. They're takin' their sweet time bringin' the oil back, and maybe even took the liberty of hiring an alcoholic skipper who likes to drink martinis and play slalom with the icebergs, and it ain't too long 'til he hits one, spills the oil and kills all the sea life in the North Atlantic. So now my buddy's out of work and he can't afford to drive, so he's walking to his f*cking job interviews, which sucks 'cause the shrapnel in his ^ss is givin' him chronic hemorrhoids. And meanwhile he's starvin' 'cause every time he tries to get a bite to eat the only blue plate special they're servin' is North Atlantic scrod with Quaker State. So what do I think? I'm holdin' out for somethin' better. I figure forget it, while I'm at it, why not just shoot my buddy, take his job and give it to his sworn enemy, hike up gas prices, bomb a village, club a baby seal, hit the hash pipe and join the National Guard? I could be elected president."
Will: "This girl's like, perfect right now and I don't want to ruin that.
Sean: "Maybe you're perfect right now, maybe you don't wanna ruin that."
Sean: "It's not your fault."
Sean: "So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. And look at you... I don't see an intelligent, confident man... I see a cocky, scared sh!tless kid. But you're a genius Will. No one denies that. No one could possibly understand the depths of you. But you presume to know everything about me because you saw a painting of mine, and you ripped my f*cking life apart. You're an orphan right? You think I know the first thing about how hard your life has been, how you feel, who you are, because I read Oliver Twist? Does that encapsulate you? Personally... I don't give a sh!t about all that, because you know what, I can't learn anything from you, I can't read in some book. Unless you want to talk about you, who you are. Then I'm fascinated. I'm in. But you don't want to do that do you sport? You're terrified of what you might say. Your move, chief."