Director Gus Van Sant, apparently still reeling over the misguided disaster that was his 1998 “Psycho” remake, has decided to play it safe with “Finding Forrester.”
What could be more sure-fire? It has a feel-good, seize-the-day story, solid performances by a venerable screen legend (Sean Connery) and a daring new-comer (Rob Brown), a dastardly villain who gets his come-uppance, and a message of triumph against adversity.
What it doesn’t have is a single idea that is original, newly conceived, or even smartly repackaged. “Finding Forrester” is sneaky about its theft from every other movie that runs along these lines — that is, nothing smacks you in the face as being too recognizable — but when it’s over, you’re left with a sense of, “Haven’t I seen that before?”
Not any of this will matter, and maybe it shouldn’t. Despite being unoriginal, the movie is polished and intelligent, and there’s no denying it pleases the crowds.
The story is of 16-year-old Bronx resident Jamal Wallace (Brown), whose test scores indicate he’s much smarter than he lets on in class. He doesn’t find acceptance among his peers by being smart, after all; he finds it by excelling on the basketball court, which he does.
On a dare, he sneaks into the apartment of a guy they call The Window. The Window is a recluse whose flat overlooks the playground Jamal and his friends play at; his moniker comes from his habit of peering down at the boys through his curtains. Jamal is startled by The Window and flees the apartment, leaving his backpack behind. (Why did he takes his backpack in the first place? So he could leave it behind, apparently, as it figures heavily into the plot.)
When his bag is tossed down from the window the following afternoon, Jamal discovers that The Window has read his notebooks and critiqued his creative writing. Seeking further insight and glad to have someone who knows what he’s talking about as a mentor, Jamal ventures to the apartment, in the daylight this time, and soon the two are friends.
It isn’t long before Jamal discovers who The Window is: He’s William Forrester (Connery), the author whose first novel, in 1954, won the Pulitzer — and who hasn’t written since then. Forrester promises to help Jamal with his writing if Jamal promises not to tell anyone about Forrester, or pry into the details of his former life.
Jamal gets a scholarship to a fancy-pants private school in Manhattan, where a saucy and mildly cynical girl named Claire (Anna Paquin) shows him around, and where he runs afoul of snobby literature professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), who thinks Jamal’s work must be plagiarized to be as good as it is.
It’s all well and good. The scenes in which Forrester rhapsodizes about writing technique should stir the blood in any would-be author’s veins, and Connery and Brown have a surprisingly good rapport. (The old man hasn’t been this likable and vulnerable in years.)
But darn it, where’s the imagination? Forrester’s reasons for becoming a hermit are so predictable and dull as to be laughable, and the tacked-on post-script to the film is entirely pointless. For a movie in which plagiarism is so important a plot point, it sure doesn’t score too highly on the creativity scale.
B- (; )