Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Finding Forrester



I really enjoy movies which do a good job of portraying friendships. One of the best is "Finding Forrester" produced by and starring Sean Connery. (2000 Columbia Pictures)

It tells the story of a bright and athletic black high-school student living in the projects, played by Rob Brown. He scores only moderately well at studies because he does not want to alienate his basketball buddies. Truth is, he has great potential for college which becomes clear after the completion of mandatory aptitude tests.

"Jamal" for a time knows nothing of this development but continues to hit the court in the midst of several apartment buildings. One of the nearby tenants peeks often from his curtained window to observe the action. The boys have heard all kinds of rumours about "the window", and they dare Jamal to climb up after dark, break in and retrieve something as a memento. He is almost caught by Connery in this stunt, but escapes with a letter opener, dropping his own backpack in the process.

A guilty conscience draws Jamal back to the apartment to return the stolen item, and in the awkward exchange the youth recovers his backpack. It contains notebooks with intensely personal writings which have all been red-line edited by the old man.
Hence begins a delightful relationship of conversation, typewriter evenings, commentary on good literature, more writing, Chinese take-out etc.

The old man is a mystery. Meanwhile at school Jamal is approached by a scout for a preparatory college interested in both his academics and prowess at the hoops. In whirlwind fashion he is enrolled and facing an upper crust school community. His older brother who parks cars at Yankee stadium is thrilled at this break-out opportunity.

An English professor notes a singular improvement in Jamal's writing and begins to suspect that he is not preparing the pieces without outside and inappropriate help. The class has been studying a novel entitled "Avalon Landing" the single achievement of an author named William Forrester. This man was lost to public view shortly after winning the Pulitzer Prize. For years students and teachers have been debating the many "hidden" meanings behind the immensely successful story.

As often as possible Jamal has been taking his work back to the old man's apartment, and he begins to deduce that "the window" is none other than Forrester. The mystery behind his sequestered lifestyle and failure to produce another novel takes up much of the remainder of the movie.

A crisis comes when Jamal is about to be disqualified from a writing competition, if not expelled, because of suspected plagiarism. When hope is almost gone, enter the great man of letters to read in the lecture hall from some of Jamal's pieces, giving full credit to his friend. He also confirms that Jamal had not given exculpatory information because of a promise never to disclose the whereabouts of the recluse.

Problem solved; academic and basketball careers intact. The old man is somewhat pleased at his coming out and decides to travel once more to the dear homeland, Scotland. He dies in the process from a cancer which had been progressing throughout his time with Jamal. Months later the youth is so informed, and given a transcript of a second work by Forrester with a touching friend's request to oversee its release.

The story shines with humourous masculine exchanges, trust between friends, a two-man only visit to centre-field Yankee Stadium, pathos for black life in the projects and the freedom which comes from releasing one's heart on the printed page.

I never tire of this delightful film. Someday the scene of Connery departing through New York night traffic on a dilapidated bicycle will be the final cut on a remarkable film career and life.

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