It has been a while since I have reviewed a movie that did not feature superheroes, a heist, or spaceships. Thus I give you Finding Forrester (2000), a really good movie that features two actors at opposite ends of their careers. That is not why you should watch it, though. The performances are great, but it is inspirational in other ways. It is the story of an aspiring writer and an aged one, and the guidance given in it was formative for me as a young man. Indeed, this blog owes part of its genesis to this film.
The aspiring writer in Finding Forrester is Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), a high school kid from the part of the Bronx that, as he puts it, not even the police want to be in. He fits in with his friends by playing basketball and not applying himself in school because, as his teacher surmises, they “don’t care what he can put down on paper.” What he can do, though, earns him recognition from the prestigious (and fictional because schools are strangely protective of their names) Mailor-Callow preparatory school, the kind of institution you can imagine politicians and wealthy business people send their children. Before accepting their offer to attend their school, Jamal meets and (begrudgingly) befriends William Forrester (Sean Connery), the person who local children refer to as “The Window” because of how the elderly man could be spotted peaking out on the world from his apartment. After apologizing for sneaking into William’s abode, Jamal comes to him again when he figures out that his new friend is the famous author of a book called Avalon Landing that he is reading in school. Wanting to remain in anonymity, William agrees to continue to help Jamal with his writing. Jamal’s one obstacle at his new school to finally displaying all his talents is Professor Crawford (F. Murray Abraham). Crawford is the one who assigned Avalon Landing and he does not believe Jamal, as a poor black kid from the Bronx who plays basketball, can be that talented. The tension between professor and pupil comes to a head when Jamal is accused of plagiarism. One of the stories he turned in had copied the first paragraph from one of William’s short stories, and it was recognized by his teacher. Initially, William refuses to help Jamal out of his predicament, but when he sees that even when there is a way out Jamal stays committed keeping his friend’s secret, the old man decides to come out of hiding. The climactic scene features William showing up at Mailor-Callow to read in front of the gathered school what they all believe to be his own words. Only when Crawford praises them does William reveal that it was Jamal’s work, not his own. Vindication is a wonderful thing, particularly when it is achieved through your friends.
As I mentioned at the outset, the core of Finding Forester is the relationship between Jamal and William. William acts as a mentor, but not just in helping Jamal to become a better writer. He indicates to the younger man just how much he still approaches the world around him through a prism of racial thoughts and prejudices, and how rise above them. When William first assesses Jamal’s writing, he asks how old is the teenager, and when he finds out he remarks that the kid is black, smiling ruefully and saying, “Remarkable.” Incensed, Jamal starts to question defensively why that is “remarkable.” But then William calls attention to how Jamal is reacting to this racist crap, and that he is really better than this feelings. Jamal is able to overcome that test, and all other racially motivated questions, by showing that his intellectual skills are transcendent. Truly, this reminds me of what the Catholic Church teaches on race. Throughout the film, those who doubt Jamal do so on the basis of assumptions that come with the color of his skin, none of which speak to his dignity as a human being. If you were to read the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it clearly states that we are all children of God and as such equal. Similarly, the film suggests that labeling people because of their race is ridiculous, to say the least.
There are a few swear words in Finding Forrester, but otherwise there is nothing else objectionable about the film. Younger children might find it boring, but if you can get them to sit still for a few moments, they might learn something. And if it inspires them to become writers, so much the better. That, coupled with the lessons on race, is something our world needs more of in these times.