A young ghetto kid (Rob Brown) breaks into the local recluse’s house only to discover it’s his literary hero, an author whose one novel has been followed by nothing except a mysterious silence for 40 years. The gruff old codger doesn’t bark at the kid and send him on his way. Nor does he shoot him with the gun he keeps on his bedside table. He doesn’t do either of these things because we’re in master-and-protégé territory, a fact which director Gus Van Sant cunningly seems to have made us fully aware of before the film has announced that that’s what it is. And he’s done that maybe to dial down our expectations.
This is not an action movie, not a plot-driven film either, it’s an exercise in gentle elegiac storytelling, a soul-warming stew concocted from muted visuals, a plaintive jazz soundtrack (lots of Miles Davis, Ornette Coleman), bucketloads of Americana and as much sentiment as the body can tolerate. It’s also, like Van Sant’s Good Will Hunting, the story of a gifted young person being encouraged to let their light shine. Speaking of which, Matt Damon turns up in a small role, part of a useful and eclectic cast including F Murray Abraham, Busta Rhymes, Anna Paquin and Michael Pitt. In the role of the aged writer is Sean Connery, who gives it all the leather and walnut of a stately civic library. He’d only make one more film after this before retiring, and that was the relatively disastrous The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Here, playing what everyone fancies is a crypto JD Salinger, is late-era Connery at his best.
© Steve Morrissey 2013