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Just when I thought serious movies were becoming too stuffy, Finding Forrester opens a window onto the shifting landscape of relationships: peer, friendship, sibling, romantic, mentor-student and familial.

Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) portrays the classic fish-out-of-water character. An intelligent African-American youth whose passion for reading is surpassed only by his desire to write, he nonetheless suppresses his academic achievements to bolster his basketball skills and earn the acceptance of his South Bronx peers. However, two critical "mistakes" alter his life. He receives superlative scores on a national test battery, stimulating the interest of a private prep school, and he takes a dare to break into the apartment of "The Window" (Sean Connery), hastily leaving a backpack full of journals.

DVD: Finding ForresterTo Jamal's relief, The Window anonymously returns his journals the next day, after critiquing Jamal's writing. Thus begins the development of the unlikely but touching relationship between Jamal and J. D. Salinger-like fictional author William Forrester.

Forrester began losing the battle to his inner demons over fifty years before. Winning the Pulitzer for his debut novel catapulted him into the limelight at 23, but personal tragedy plunged him into seclusion shortly thereafter. In his physical and socio/economic opposite, Jamal, Forrester recognizes a kindred literary spirit and the son he never sired.

Both Forrester and Jamal harbor phobias about people recognizing their true selves. Little by little, they berate, cajole, surprise and otherwise mentor each other into overcoming their fears and opening the windows of their souls.

But their relationship suffers the ultimate test when Jamal enters a short story in his school's annual writing competition, and critic-turned-teacher Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) accuses him of plagiarism. Honoring his promise to keep his friendship with Forrester a secret, Jamal refuses to acknowledge that he received Forrester's permission to excerpt the paragraph in question. Crawford, in Salieri-like reprisal, doggedly seeks Jamal's expulsion, in spite of -- or perhaps because of -- his stellar contributions on the basketball court.

Jamal must learn when and how to fight his own battles, and Forrester must conquer his demons to defend his young friend.

In an era of dazzling, computer-generated special effects (that all to often mask lackluster performances grinding through a nonexistent plot) it comes as a refreshing relief to find a movie that relies upon pure, old-fashioned production values. Director Gus Van Sant expertly incorporates reflections, shadows and skewed angles to create a moody, contemplative atmosphere. Window symbolism weaves through the film to a poignant conclusion.

In Finding Forrester, I found a quietly thoughtful, uplifting story about two vastly different people who teach each other to pursue their dreams. If you waited to watch it, do yourself a favor and don't wait too long. "For if we wait too long, we risk learning that life is not a game that is won… or lost… it is a game that, too often, simply isn't played."

Kim D. Headlee

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