Who’da thunk Matt Damon and Ben Affleck could write an Academy Award-winning screenplay? Seriously, anyone who believed the pair of Boston actors, whose previous screen credits included no writing experience, and roles in the classic films ‘Glory Daze,’ ‘School Ties,’ and ‘Mallrats’ would have that kind of talent, please raise your hands. Now strike yourself repeatedly with said raised hand, as such a prediction was akin to seeing Woody Allen holding a wrestling championship belt.
Against all odds, though, the pair of fledgling actors stuck in dead end roles penned a film that would be their vehicle to get starring roles, and did it ever pay off for them, thrusting both actors into the limelight, giving them their choice of roles ever since. Perhaps what made ‘Good Will Hunting’ a hit was more than it’s tight, inspiring story, as the film greatly benefited from the casting of comic legend Robin Williams, and the landing of directing prodigy Gus Van Sant.
Will Hunting (Damon) is an emotionally detached math savant, who can throw down with knowledge as easily as he can with fisticuffs. The troubled Boston youth has a history of run-ins with the law, but his latest, striking an officer following a scrap, has landed him in a position his photographic memory and sly tongue cannot talk his way out of, and put him in jail. His time served is short, though, as mathematics professor Gerald Lambeau (Stellan Skarsgard), who Hunting taunted by outsmarting his entire class, bails him out on the condition that Hunting pursue the psychological care he needs.
Hunting and his amazing intellect mow through psychologist after psychologist, until Lambeau’s college roommate Sean Maguire (Williams), who also has emotional baggage, tries to connect with him. The two former friends with differing philosophies engage in a tug-of-war over what they feel is best for Hunting, who has his own issues he must sort out, with his loyalties to his childhood friends, his serial underachieving, and the budding romance with Skyler (Minnie Driver) that he is doomed to sabotage.
What has always sold me on this film is the superb acting of Williams and the career defining performance of Damon. Williams pulls viewers into the emotional core that made his acting in ‘Dead Poets Society’ so memorable, making the tortured psychologist he portrays that much more believable, stealing the show in every shot he’s in, and earning his Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Damon is no slouch, either, as he swings for the fences with his performance. ‘Good Will Hunting’ clearly cemented Damon as a leading man that audiences can get behind and relate to, as he conveys his character’s inner grief without ever getting too hammy. Perhaps the greatest praise I can give is that I have yet to find myself bored by the events depicted, even if I can see them coming from a mile away due to numerous viewings, as the pacing of the film is amazing, with fully fleshed out characters, none of which are even sure of themselves, and some very sharp dialogue spewed by the intellectual giant Hunting, most particularly his rant to the NSA during his interview.
I could hark on and praise the film for a few more paragraphs, but no matter how much love and adoration is shown, at the end of the day, ‘Good Will Hunting’ still isn't a perfect film by any means. The entire subplot involving the Skyler character, while it is written well, isn’t truly necessary to delve into the depths of the Hunting character, other than to bring him from a manchild into adulthood. Skyler provides a sensitive side to him, yes, and with such a storyline, the growth of his character into a full, unencumbered person is possible, true, but the film’s focus would have been best left on Hunting’s past affecting his present, his mental state, and his sheer talent. The film is also a bit inconsistent, as Hunting will jump people on the street just because they were mean to him back in kindergarten, but when he is confronting a bar patron who clearly rubs him the wrong way, with alcohol in his system, he merely suggests they “step outside,” an action that is clearly not shown to be one of his traits based off of his list of previous offenses, as he clearly doesn’t fear being busted again...and again...
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
The domestic home video distribution rights for ‘Good Will Hunting’ belong to Miramax, but in Canada are held by Alliance Atlantis Communications, who have released a number of Blu-ray discs that have yet to see USA bows. The packaging for this disc states the video is in 1080i video; however, this is a typo, as the video is, in fact, in 1080p.
The disc starts with a screen informing you that the feature is going to begin shortly. Gee, thanks, Mr. Obvious! Upon completion of the film, after a few production credits, this informative screen pops up again, as the disc will loop and continually play.
‘Good Will Hunting’ debuts on Blu-ray in this Canadian import with a 1080p/ AVC MPEG-4 transfer in the film’s native 1.85 ratio. The relatively inexpensive film does look quite good, though it's a bit rough around the edges, as it were. From the start, detail is very clear, as one can see what has been erased on the chalkboards in the math class. There are a few extreme close-ups in the film that look absolutely brilliant, such as the scene with Will performing a mathematical equation on his mirror, or the tightly framed prolonged shot on the hypnotherapist. Moles, pores, and indents in these moments pop right off the characters faces; they’re so clear, you’re almost right there with these actors.
Skin tones can vary, with some shots being brilliant in their display of authentic epidermal depiction, while other scenes truly wear the colors of their surroundings. One can make out the fine beginnings of a peach fuzz mustache on Skyler in virtually every scene she’s in (and I cannot tell if that is a positive for the Blu-ray’s picture quality, or a negative for the unsexy factor)! The light grain level to the film is never a distraction, though backgrounds do have a bit of a blur, as the detail remains in the forefront. The picture has a bit of a shaky feel to it in some scenes which can be distracting, though it's nowhere near as distracting as the frequency of blemishes and imperfections showing up as white dots across the print for it’s entire run time. Colors are a bit drab throughout, as well; they never truly gripped me. All in all, the picture has a solid feel to it, though there are times I want to sit down with it and repeat the phrase “It’s not your fault” over and over until it cries due to the silly little things that deprive it from being truly great.
The audio for ‘Good Will Hunting’ defaults to a lossy Dolby Digital track when the film begins (without menu prompt), but there is a DTS HD Master Audio track available (along with a French dub). The film is a bit of a talker, a drama where discussion leads to self revelation and discovery, so dialogue is easily the most important part of this mix. For the most part, the spoken word is clear, even through the numerous accents (including Matt Damon's Boston accent that pops in and out at times). I say "for the most part," as at times the lines can get very hushed, at one point near muted, and they can also be a bit uneven at times, as the volume level of the spoken word can vary from scene to scene. Also worth noting, in the “retainer” scene, an annoying clicking can be heard that cannot be attributed to anything on screen.
I was surprised at the atmosphere that came from the rears every so often, though it was fairly inconsistent in it’s presence. Danny Elfman’s score plays through every speaker, though it is not thoroughly utilized in the film, so it’s presence is spotty. The Harvard bar is full of activity from the other patrons, the batting cages shot has plenty going on all around, the airport had ever so quiet loud speaker announcements, and in the math class and courtroom, a subtle echo could be heard. Minor sounds in the foreground are very easy to distinguish, and I especially enjoyed the realism coming from inside Sean’s office, where Will’s footsteps are clear, and one can hear his pants shuffle against themselves as he paces. It is safe to say this audio mix will definitely not “wow” anyone, though it does the job.
Like many other Alliance Blu-rays, ‘Good Will Hunting’ comes sans extras.
‘Good Will Hunting’ is a film with immense replay value, despite it’s drama-y subject matter. The characters can hook you from the start, if you let them, and the two hour run time will just fly by. This Canadian import presents solid, if unspectacular, audio and video qualities, and a bare bones supplement package that makes Minnie Driver look engorged by comparison. Fans of the film shouldn’t hesitate, unless they plan on buying this title again when Miramax drops the domestic release tentatively scheduled for late in the year, while blind buyers may find a true film gem, and not care that the extras are missing.
Portions of this review also appear in our coverage of Dunkirk on Blu-ray. This post features unique Vital Disc Stats, Video, and Final Thoughts sections.