Sean Connery, the Oscar-winning actor best known for portraying James Bond, died Saturday at the age of 90. Though 007 will always be a lasting part of his legacy, Connery didn’t let the character define him, as he went on to star in such hit films as “The Hunt for Red October,” “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade,” “The Rock,” and “The Untouchables.”
Even late in his acting career, Connery found roles that let his talent shine through. In 2000’s “Finding Forrester,” Connery transformed into curmudgeonly shut-in William Forrester, an author who won the Pulitzer Prize for his novel “Avalon Landing” but never wrote another book and disappeared from the public eye. Early in the movie, Forrester crosses paths with Jamal Wallace (played by Rob Brown), a teenager with elite basketball skills but also a talent for writing.
After Wallace learns of Forrester’s background, the two strike a deal: Wallace can work under the tutelage of Forrester as long as he doesn’t ask questions about his past or reveal their relationship to anyone else. (Oh, and anything written in Forrester’s apartment stays there. That’s an issue later on.) “Finding Forrester” is largely a story of this unlikely bond between a young Black man navigating the world and an old Scottish grump happy to leave it behind. Where the plot takes the audience is not surprising, but the pairing is so compelling it doesn’t matter.
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Forrester and Wallace chat about wearing socks inside-out (“socks are badly designed”), the key to a woman’s heart (“an unexpected gift at an unexpected time”) and, of course, writing. In the film’s most memorable scene, Forrester tells Wallace to type out one of his old pieces to get in rhythm, then let his own words flow.
Brown quickly realizes Forrester is not a fan of keeping your fingers on the home row.
“Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” Forrester yells. “Yes. Yes! You’re the man now, dog!”
Connery was capable of being loud, angry and funny when the moment called for it, but he didn’t neglect subtlety and nuance.
After a failed attempt by Wallace to take Forrester to a basketball game at Madison Square Garden — Forrester gets lost in the crowd and has a panic attack — Wallace is able to use a family connection to bring Forrester down to field level at an empty Yankee Stadium. The location triggers old memories for Forrester, who opens up about feeling somewhat responsible for his brother’s death, dismissing his original rule on discussing his past.
You can see Forrester cycling through the emotions: the joy of spending time with family, the sadness of losing loved ones, the years of pain and regret rushing to the surface. Connery expertly conveys all of it in a short amount of time, setting up Brown to deliver a powerful line.
“The rest of those who have gone before us cannot steady the unrest of those to follow,” Wallace says. “You wrote that in your book.”
Through his relationship with Wallace, Forrester learns the value of friendship — and the work that it takes to keep those connections intact. When Wallace is accused of plagiarism by his professor (don’t take the work out of the apartment!), Forrester initially refuses to help him despite the fact that Wallace holds up his end of the bargain.
Forrester eventually changes course, emerging from his home to stand in front of Wallace’s professors and classmates and read Wallace’s work.
“When I read these words, words of hope, dreams, I realize that the one wish that was granted to me so late in life was the gift of friend — of friendship,” Forrester says.
Just the slightest pause on the word “friend” illustrates so much about the character. Forrester, once content to live alone and drink himself to sleep each night, shows his fragility and turns the page. Only then can his next chapter begin.
In “Finding Forrester,” the penultimate feature of his illustrious career, Connery displayed the range that made him one of the most captivating performers of his generation. William Forrester will never be as iconic as James Bond, but he did give Connery another chance to share his gift.
To borrow a few words from a famous author, he was the man, dog.