Hard to believe it’s been 15 years since Ben Affleck and Matt Damon took Hollywood by storm. In that time, both artists went through periods of commercial and creative disappointments, yet both appear to be on the right track with their careers these days. Damon is considered one of the finest actors working today, with such acclaimed work as The Departed, The Bourne Identity (and its sequels) and Invictus (for which he garnered another Academy Award nomination). Meanwhile, Affleck has emerged an exciting and talented film director. The Town, his second directing effort, proved that his abilities were no fluke, and this fall’s Argo already has some people talking about an Academy Award nomination for Best Picture and Best Director. While the two men may have had some road bumps getting to where they are now (Gigli anyone? The Brothers Grimm?), that they are now at the top of their game shouldn’t surprise anyone, especially when you go back and watch Good Will Hunting.
The remarkable story behind this film is detailed in a well done featurette that contains interviews with most of the principal players from the movie. In it, Damon and Affleck are interviewed side by side, as are director Gus Van Sant and producer Chris Moore. Supporting actor, Robin Williams, is interviewed separately, as is writer/director Kevin Smith, who provided most the of comic relief in his recalling of the events that lead to the making of Good Will Hunting.
The script began as a thriller, written by the two actors when they lived together during their early, struggling years as actors. It was bought for a huge sum of money by Castle Rock Entertainment, then Rob Reiner’s production company, and slowly went from being a thriller about a young genius to a drama about the relationship between that same genius and his best friends, a professor who wants to help him harness his talent, and a woman that he falls in love with. It turns out that Smith was important to helping get the film made. When Damon and Affleck hit a road block at Castle Rock, they were given one month to find another home for the project, or risk losing it and the possibility of starring in it. They reached out to their friend Smith just to see if he could tell them where to send it. Smith read it in one sitting (as he describes it, he never left the shitter the moment he began the script) and sent the screenplay to Harvey Weinstein. Smith told him that Good Will Hunting had the potential of winning an Academy Award, it was that good.Weinstein loved the script. Miramax ponied up huge bucks to buy the script from Castle Rock and Hollywood history was made.
Good Will Hunting is as poignant and funny as the first time I saw it back in 1997. This is refreshing because there are many instances when a movie gets hyped and audiences get caught up in the excitement, propelling it forward to awards and commercial success. Then, upon further reflection, we realize that, ”Hmm, maybe that picture wasn’t the bee’s knees after all.” Fortunately, Good Will Hunting doesn’t suffer with age. All four leads, Damon, Williams, Affleck and on screen love interest, Minnie Driver (who’d earlier that year starred in the cult classic, Grosse Pointe Blank) deliver stellar performances that will rank as the best of their careers. Furthermore, Van Sant’s direction still appears effortless, as he combined the art house, indie techniques he’d been developing his entire career with a more mainstream, commercial sensibility.
Everything about Good Will Hunting remains relevant and honest. None of that would have been possible if the script hadn’t been finely tuned and full of the love and brotherhood that exists between Affleck and Damon. As the special features on the Blu-ray clearly show, these two men are best friends and have stayed that way even though they’ve both had their own levels of success. Watching them on screen together reminds me of Redford and Newman and the way their off screen friendship was able to come across on the big screen. With Affleck rapidly becoming an A list director and Damon at the top of every director’s wish list (seriously, he can pretty much choose who he wants to work with), one can only hope that they’ll work together on another movie soon, either as co-stars, or at least as director and actor.