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Another Unlikely Friendship. Again.
by Jon Schuller

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I've written about how the movies treat friendships, between men, between women and, of course, between men and women; whether it's modern or classic situations and eras. Love is the predominant theme, but I'd have to say that the idea of friends throughout history and cultures runs a close second. There are so many classical stories from ancient history, too numerous to mention, in which one friend risks (and sometimes loses) his or her life to save a friend. Modern films have used this premise many times and have created classics that are timeless and mentioned many times. Some examples:
The Help
The Boy in the Striped Pajamas
Thelma and Louise
Dead Poets Society
It's A Wonderful Life
The Untouchables
A League of Their Own
Steel Magnolias
Fried Green Tomatoes
Ferris Bueller's Day Off
Mulholland Falls
Good Will Hunting
Blazing Saddles
Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid
Lethal Weapon (series)
No doubt there are dozens more, but I think you've got the idea, right?

On December 22, 2000, a movie was released that would redefine friendship again on film. Finding Forrester starred Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, and Busta Rhymes; it was directed by Gus Van Sant. The picture was set in the Bronx and
Uptown New York.

Jamal Wallace (Brown), a 16-year old boy, plays basketball in a public outdoor court with his friends. From a tenement apartment building window overlooking the courts, a reclusive man, Forrester (Connery) watches as the boys play almost daily. Jamal has been invited to become a student at a prominent, private school, Mailor-Callow. There are only a few African-American students there, but Jamal gets on the basketball team. For most of the faculty and staff, that's why he's there. But his grades and test scores from high school are impressive and his literature/writing professor, Crawford (Abraham), is highly dubious that a poor kid from the Bronx has such abilities.

Jamal's friends dare him to steal something from the cloistered man's apartment and Jamal gets caught by Forrester, who sends notes to Jamal challenging him to write about his experience. Jamal returns it and Forrester is impressed with the boy's skills. Thus begins a friendship neither of them could have ever imagined.

Forrester is a famous, if isolated, author who stays inside his dark apartment, filled with books and never ventures out. Jamal begins visiting him almost daily as Forrester helps him write a new essay. Crawford cannot imagine Jamal
writing this by himself and accuses him of plagiarism. Jamal tries to get Forrester out of the apartment and to Madison Square Garden for a basketball game, but, the crowds make Forrester panic and they have to leave. Jamal's brother, Terrell (Rhymes), arranges for them to get into an empty Yankee Stadium by themselves. Forrester begins to confide in Jamal about his family, especially losing his brother after World War II.

Forrester trusts Jamal to re-write some of Forrester's essays but makes him promise that they will never leave the apartment. Forrester says Jamal has real talent and his writings show a gift for language. One thing leads to another none good for Jamal as he submits a rewrite because Crawford has accused him of cheating. The school finds out that he used a title of Forrester's but the work is thoroughly Jamal's. Jamal faces expulsion. The basketball championship game becomes the pivot for Jamal as the school's board tells him that if he wins the championship, the expulsion is nullified. He misses some shots and the school loses.

But Jamal told Forrester that staying inside, hidden away, is the worst form of cowardice. Forrester suddenly shows up at the school on the day of the school's writing contest. The
students are reading their essays aloud to the whole class. Forrester reads from a paper and Crawford, surprised at his appearance, praises Forrester's words. Forrester says no, these are the words of his friend, Jamal Wallace. Crawford won't be upstaged or embarrassed by a student and he goes off on a rant; his fellow teachers calm him down. Forrester and Jamal leave together.

Forrester tells Jamal he's going back to Scotland. He says that Jamal has real talent and should keep writing no matter what. A year later, Jamal meets Forrester's attorney, Sanderson (Matt Damon) and learns Forrester has died of cancer. Forrester has bequeathed the apartment and all its amazing contents to Jamal. The film closes as Jamal, his mother and brother enter the apartment and see its treasures.

This is a truly marvelous movie, with so many intricacies and quick, sudden surprises. Most of all, I enjoy the slow process of how two men, total strangers in so many ways, become known to each other and, eventually, grow to love each other as friends. Their backgrounds melt away and the emergence of new beginnings for each man is a wonderful process to watch. Here's a perfect example of how movies entertain us, but, can open our eyes and minds to worlds we might never explore.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.

Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

Have You Been Spying On Me Lately? For How Long?

But Can She Act? That's What I Want to Know

They're Not the Same People They Used To Be

Time Does Fly When We Watch Movies

Before Minimum or Maximum, There Was Only Prison

All Columns

Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 30 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).

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