Grade: B+/A-
Rated PG-13

J.D. Salinger wrote three books, then disappeared into Howard Hughes-style oblivion and inspired at least two films.

In Field of Dreams, Kevin Costner’s character shakes a Salinger type (James Earl Jones) recluse out of his inertia, paranoia, and humanity-avoidance in order to satisfy the voices in his head that also told him to build a baseball field.

In Finding Forrester, aspiring 16-year-old writer Jamal Wallace ends up finding the all-time greatest mentor when on a dare he climbs through the window of a “ghost” who had been watching him and his friends play basketball and, scared off, leaves behind a backpack containing his writer’s notebook.

In a case of life imitating art, Rob Brown showed up for tryouts as an extra on this picture by Gus Van Sant (Good Will Hunting) hoping to earn enough money to pay his cell phone bill. But Van Sant liked what he saw and cast him as Jamal, who soon after that break-in finds his backpack tossed out on the street and his writer’s notebook marked up and critiqued by the older writer. On one page he sees a handwritten scrawl, “I want to support this writer.” And so begins a mentorship between Jamal and famed writer William Forrester that will benefit both parties.

It’s kind of refreshing to see African American youths in their lower-income neighborhoods playing basketball and going to school and hanging out without there being any hint of violence or gang activities—the kind of cinematic clichés that have befallen films having to do with residents of “the hood.” The only f-bomb in this PG-13 film comes from an old white man (Sean Connery as Forrester), and the worst behavior comes from uppity adults associated with the private school that recruits Jamal after his test scores expose him as a bit of a genius. It’s refreshing, too, that none of Jamal’s neighborhood friends resent him for transferring to a private school and, ultimately, playing for a championship that’s televised.

Ebert and Roeper gave two thumbs up to Finding Forrester (2000), a slick Hollywood film that follows the feel-good/feel-bad formula all the way through to the end. There are moments in it that seem as if they could have come out of other mentor/teacher films like Mr. Holland’s Opus or Mona Lisa Smile. There’s a single grumpy antagonist (F. Murray Abraham, as a former rival of Forrester’s and now a bitter English teacher) who is either a) racist, b) jealous, or c) just a jackass. He refuses to believe that someone who is talented enough to carry the school’s basketball team could also be a good student—and, unspoken, black.

At one point in the film, it’s made crystal clear to Jamal and the audience that one influential board member at the private school has a problem with him seeing his daughter because he’s black. When Jamal says something about what he sees happening, Clair (Anna Paquin) complains, “Why do you always have to see everything as black and white.” The unspoken answer, especially in the time of Black Lives Matter, is because I’m black. Race enters into everything if you’re black, and that really comes across in this film while not being overly preachy. Though the film begins with a rapper, there’s no glorification of rap culture. Instead, look for rapper Busta Rhymes as Jamal’s brother, a hard-working, proud-of-his-job, wholesome guy who helps his younger sibling to give Forrester his own Field of Dreams moment.

Whether he’s instructing Elliot Ness in The Untouchables or schooling an aspiring writer here, Sean Connery seems at his best as a guide figure. There are tons of positive messages embedded in this film: be yourself; accept help when you can find it; study hard and it can lead to something good; it’s possible to be a good athlete and a good student; and you can make a Hollywood picture involving teens that doesn’t have a single “bash” or “rave” shown, and where the love interest is and remains platonic. It’s a film about dreams and about writing, and there are some very funny moments to go with the heartwarming ones—and yes, a sad moment as well. But Finding Forrester is absolutely a family film that will be most appreciated by families with junior high aged children and older.

Entire family: No
Run time: 136 min. (Color)
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1 widescreen
Featured audio: DTS-HDMA 5.1
Studio/Distributor: Mill Creek Entertainment
Bonus features: N/A
Amazon link
Rated PG-13 for brief strong language and some sexual references

Language: 4/10—Aside from the N-word used in an opening rap song and one f-bomb, the rest of the language is pretty tame compared to more recent films, with maybe a couple dozen lesser profanities tops

Sex: 2/10—Other than Jamal sitting in his apartment listening to bedpost banging and a woman screaming during sex, there’s really nothing here to speak of

Violence: 1/10—Nobody gets punched, no shots are fired, and the only violence is accidental and trauma-related

Adult situations: 1/10—Aside from a background character smoking briefly, there’s nothing here; no partying, no drugs, no smoking, and nothing lewd or “adult”

Takeaway: Finding Forrester has a very Good Will Hunting vibe to it, so if you liked that film by Van Sant you’ll like this one; it’s all about a relationship between two people