Good Will Hunting (1997)

Director: Gus Van Sant

Starring: Matt Damon, Ben Affleck, Robin Williams, Minnie Driver, Stellan Skarsgard  

Screenplay: Damon/Affleck  

Music: Danny Elfman  

Editor: Pietro Scallier  

Cinematography: Jean-Yves Escoffier  

Bit Part: Casey Affleck  

FACT 1: The film cost ten million dollars to make and took $225 million worldwide 

FACT 2: one of the guest characters in Robin William’s 70s sitcom ‘Mork and Mindy’ was called Arnold Wanker.  

LIE: Kevin Smith’s Jersey Girl – which stars Ben Affleck as a single dad trying to regain his career – is used as both an emetic and purgative in many top American hospitals.

In One Line: The janitor at M.I.T. proves to be a lot cleverer than any of the acdemics.


Will Hunting (Damon) is blessed with an Einstein-like IQ, but works as a caretaker at M.I.T. and spends his leisure time drinking and brawling with a group of friends led by best friend Chuckie Sullivan (Ben Affleck).

Will solves a seemingly insoluble algebraic equation which has been left on an open whiteboard at the university by mathematics professor Gerald Lambeau (Skarsgard).

Lambeau tracks Will down and puts him under the supervision of old friend and rival Sean Maguire - who sets out to find the root cause of Will’s alienation. (Will is being sentenced in court when Lambeau finds him.)  

After a dreadful first session of therapy, a small germ of friendship starts to develop between the two men. Sean confides in Will, telling him about his decision to miss the most important-ever Boston Red Sox baseball game for a date with his future wife, and he tells Sean of the years he looked after her as she died a slow death from cancer. He tells him that he does not regret a single thing and that love was more important than sport or careers or academia.  

Will begins a stop/start relationship with British student Skylar – he is unable to give himself to her and he is antagonistic to almost all who try to help him.  

Sean starts to unravel the terrible reasons behind Will’s fears and problems, and the real reasons for Will’s attachment to his Irish street gang friends.  

Both Will and Sean are left with a series of life-changing decisions as Will’s therapy sessions come to an end.  


“Why are you serving up this awful, syrupy shit for us?” you’re probably asking.  

And it’s a good question because there’s an awful lot wrong with GWH, but at the same time, there’s lots to admire.  

Bad things first 

1. My Bostonian internet chum Kerry tells me that Robin Williams’s Bostonian accent is the worst ever recorded in any medium. A sort of Massachusetts response to Shirley Valentine, if you like.  

2. The slow-motion sub-Scorsese street brawl scene (inexplicably soundtracked by Gerry Rafferty’s ‘Baker Street’) is massively embarrassing. For all concerned.  

3. Minnie Driver’s telling of a ‘blow-job’ joke (complete with Irish accent) is even worse. Truly one of the many nadirs of popular cinema.  

4. Affleck takes Damon’s place at a job interview. Van Sant and Affleck try to mimic Spud’s/Ewan Bremner’s brilliant speed-fuelled job interview from ‘Trainspotting’. Again, this is one of the many nadirs of anything, never mind popular cinema.  

5. Robin Williams improvises a scene where we - the audience - are supposed to find a story about his wife farting ‘cute’/funny and/or appealing. Frankly, I was glad that she died after listening to it.  

6. Never for one moment do I believe that Affleck or Damon have been anything but preppy, affluent college boys rather than the rough and tumble construction worker/janitor twosome they portray in this film.  

7. The film’s sense of ‘Irishness’ feels about as authentic as the Home Counties students you see on March 17th who are pissed out of their minds on a sniff of the barmaid’s apron and who are sporting over-sized Guinness hats and other corporate tat dispensed by the giant Diageo conglomerate.  

8. Some very bad character names: Sean Maguire (obviously), and Matt Damon’s  great Irish mates Chucky Sullivan, Morgan O’Malley and Billy McBride.  ‘k off!  

Good Things  

1. A great, Oscar-winning screenplay – the fact that Damon and Affleck were both in their very early 20s when they wrote is (to my mind) incredible, and negates any criticisms I’ve expressed in the top half of this review.  

2. Robin Williams’s best film role.  Farting anecdote aside, it’s an affecting, tremendous performance. I’ll leave it at that.  

3. There’s some lovely cinematography – the shots of Will looking at the ‘math’ board and his lonely train journeys remind the audience that this is the same Gus van Sant who made those great art-house films all those years ago.  

4. A terrific performance from the young Matt Damon – like I say, I don’t believe he’s ever brushed a floor in his life, but you certainly get the impression of a keen intellect at work.  

5. The idea of the genius, the super-brain, the intellect that dwarfs all others -  almost spontaneously emerging out of nowhere is not a new idea, but it’s memorably realised in this film, and there are some other good examples quoted to make you start delving through Wikipedia.  


Admittedly, GWH is not the sort of film that Gus Van Sant’s earlier, cleverer, more personal films suggested. It’s no My Own Private Idaho or Drugstore Cowboy, but Van Sant drifts from commercial to more obtuse fare whenever he feels like so who am I to argue? GWH is simply a great story that’s effectively realised by very talented people.  

It was a massive commercial success, and while Damon has made many smart career moves, it’s taken Affleck a long time to regain his credibility via a series of superbly-crafted films (Gone Baby Gone will be reviewed soon) via his new vocation as (an obviously gifted) director.  

So, a bit ‘meat and potatoes’, but well worth a