The 365 Best Films of the 2000s

Heroes of the Zeroes: Finding Forrester

Heroes of the Zeroes is Nick Rogers’ daily, alphabetical look back at the 365 best films of 2000-2009.

“Finding Forrester”
Rated PG-13

Concede the embarrassing scene, immortalized in ads for 2000’s “Finding Forrester,” of Sean Connery barking, “You’re the man now, dog!” in his brambly Scottish brogue. It’s a wincing moment, but hardly worth the condemnation lobbed at “Forrester” as a low-point sellout for director Gus van Sant. (Besides, van Sant’s rudderless 1998 remake of “Psycho” stands out as a point so low it’s subterranean.)

Lost in “Forrester’s” dismissal was an appreciation for its relatively piss-and-vinegar approach to the act of creating fiction. Jazzy, classicist and a bit meta, the film’s unexpectedly urbane quirks resembled Jonathan Demme films at their mainstream best.

Jamal (Rob Brown, free of affectation in his debut) is an eloquent, black high-school basketball player recruited by a private school. After a dare, he learns the shut-in upstairs is William Forrester (Connery), a lauded writer in J.D. Salinger-style seclusion who nevertheless fosters Jamal’s writing.

A hard turn into “Scent of a Woman” territory feels safe but isn’t without its own entertainment value, and there are worse go-to guys for smug, latently racist teachers than F. Murray Abraham.

Mike Rich’s amiable script more confidently teases out the rhythms and relaxations in its central friendship. Connery’s guarded-gusto performance is at its best when pondering how one never knows in what way their writing might empower an evolution — a responsibility with which he struggles in a climax that weighs courage against comfort.

“Forrester” felt like a less prickly version of 2000’s also-great “Wonder Boys,” but also joyously encouraged literary inspiration from mentor to protégé.

The trailer gives too much away. You won’t find it here.

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4 Responses to “Heroes of the Zeroes: Finding Forrester”

  1. Brian Sosin says:

    I have a friend who tried out for the role that ended up being played by Rob Brown. On fact, if it hadn’t been Brown this movie might be more well regarded.

  2. Bobby McFerrin says:

    I was surprised to see this on the list, Nick. I did enjoy the movie, though I guess it clumps in my mind with some of the other cheesy attempts to make similar movies. That said, had you asked me to name a movie like this, Finding Forrester would be the one I’d have been able to come up with.

  3. Nick Rogers says:

    Joe: Yes, yes, yes. This is a classic example of how to tell that story with empathy, respect and intelligence for the mentor and the protege. And you’re also right in saying that the possibility exists that racism isn’t a factor in Abraham’s characterization. (Strangely, I don’t think I’ve seen Abraham in anything since this film, 10 years ago.) I really don’t understand the railroading "Forrester" seems to have gotten when it gets right what so many other flims of its ilk get horribly, horribly wrong. And for the sake of Sean Connery’s good name, I like to consider it his final screen performance. No one deserves "The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen."

  4. Joe Shearer says:

    This one is another of my favorites. Rob Brown is a strange actor to peg. He has a certain likability, but in a lot of ways he’s very wooden as an actor and seemed (especially here) uncomfortable in front of the camera. It worked for him to an extent, because his character is so guarded and uncomfortable to begin with, but he also delivered his lines a lot of times like he was reading them. He was much improved by the time he did "The Express," which was, counting "Forrester" his third role as an athlete, and his fourth if you count the competitive dancing film "Take the Lead."

    Anyway, I hate to get back on this soapbox, but this is my quintessential counter to "The Blind Side" in discussing race in a "white person mentors a talented but disadvantaged young black person" cinematic environment. In "Forrester" Jamal is smart, but is disadvantaged, and he even keeps his grades intentionally average so as not to draw the wrath of his peers (because in his community doing well in school equates to not fitting in).

    And the cherry on top of this sundae is that Jamal in the end taught Forrester an important lesson as well, helped him break his agoraphobia, and gave him some meaning in a later part of his life. Compare that to "Blind Side," where the Michael Oher character gave Sandra Bullock and Co. valuable experience in training the next family dog.

    So when he meets Connery’s character he is already a writer, though he hides it actively. Connery takes the role of a teacher and guides him, allowing him to achieve success on his own, rather than doing something that directly helps him, or causes him, to succeed.

    Van Sant also doesn’t hide from race, as Nick, as you mentioned Abraham’s character is perhaps latently racist, but he never calls him any racist names or even mentions race, but he simply has the attitude that this dumb, poor inner-city basketball player thinks he’s owed something. It’s a great, subtle touch that doesn’t even have to be seen as racism necessarily.