The story, set to the backdrop of Boston, is centered on Will Hunting (Matt Damon) a janitor at MIT from Boston's southside. He spends his spare time drinking and causing trouble with his best friends (Ben Affleck, Casey Affleck, and Cole Hasuer, a career high for all three actors). One day, a professor stumbles upon some of Will's mathwork and realizes that he is a genius. To save Will from jail for a crime, he decides to have him work for him and see a therapist (Robin Williams, in his best performance). Through this, Will finds himself, and what he really wants out of life.
Gus Van Sant (My Own Private Idaho, Drugstore Cowboy) directed this film. Despite the fact that he didn't write it, Hunting carries all of the trademarks of a Van Sant film. Starting with his usual camerawork of beautiful high up and wide shots. This works from the emptiness of Idaho to the crowdedness of a big city like Boston to show an emptiness existing in the world and the emptiness of the characters. The landscapes become the characters themselves. Mike Waters' soul is as empty as Idaho itself while Will is as confused and discombobulated as the Boston streets he's raised on. It is where he lives that defines him and eventually, holds him down.
In this way, like Van Sant's other films, Hunting questions the existence of freewill and fate. Does someone have the freedom to set out and do what they want, or is some force around them stopping them and forcing them to a certain, unwanted path in life? Good Will Hunting is slightly more optimistic than Van Sant's other films and poses that it is possible to choose your future.
One thing that struck me about Good Will Hunting besides the excellent writing was the great performances, many from actors I don't even admire (Ben Affleck in Gigli, anyone?). Looking at the performances, I was reminded of a part of Team America. The actor, Gary, is supposedly the world's greatest. What makes him cry: thinking about the saddest moment in his life (when his brother was eaten by gorillas). I realized that this was supposed to be making fun of actors and finding a phoniness in them that their emotions in their performances aren't real.
I felt that in Good Will Hunting something about the performances made me think that these people weren't phonies but were truly emotionally invested in their performances. Maybe because Damon and the Affleck brothers are Boston born and raised or maybe they just care so deeply about their roles in this films. In Williams' therapist, I was able to believe that he truly cared about Hunting when most others just gave up on him. He could balance his usual sense of humor with just pure seriousness. That Oscar was well deserved. Moreover, they become real people, not characters. And that, is great acting.
What makes Good Will Hunting so great is the balance between the director, writers, and the actors. All contribute equally to a great product. Good Will Hunting is one of those rare films that reaffirms the goodness inside every human and is optimistic rather than pessimistic. Ben and Matt, you're work behind the camera is great. Why can't you do it more often?