Finding Forrester is a conciliatory race-fantasy by Gus Van Sant, the maker of Good Will Hunting. In an odd dichotomy, the new film's execution is less manipulative than its predecessor while the plot is doubly so. Instead of Matt Damon's janitor-math genius we get Jamal (Rob Brown), a young city kid who's both a basketball star and a gifted writer. Instead of a weepy Robin Williams, we get a stony, imperious Sean Connery playing a Pulitzer Prize-winning recluse holed up in his Bronx apartment. He practices tough love and helps to hone Jamal's writing. Jamal, in turn, breaks through the old man's dusty, cynical shell. Brown and Connery work well together, and their relationship proceeds at an almost commonsensical pitch that improves upon the Hallmark trappings of Good Will Hunting's mentor-genius pair.
But there's something wrong with any film set in the South Bronx about African-American literary talent that contains no hip-hop. The South Bronx is hip-hop's birthplace, after all, and it's one of the few popular art forms that places top priority on lyrical ability. Finding Forrester prefers jazz. One oddity leads to another. Why is Forrester (Connery) living in a black and Puerto Rican ghetto? And why doesn't Jamal ever get to kiss his white girlfriend (Anna Paquin)? The little physical contact they have is mediated through basketball; Jamal is brilliant, heroic, and desexed. He couldn't be easier for mainstream America to swallow. The pacifying logic behind these decisions is supported by the absence of hip-hop: it's predominantly black music which, unlike jazz, still manages to make some folks nervous. These factors combine to suggest that Van Sant eschews historical realities, flits from the slightest sign of racial discomfort, and employs a fantasy version of black talent in America for sentimental purposes.