Sean Connery, Rob Brown, F. Murray Abraham, Anna Paquin, Busta Rhymes, April Grace, Glenn Fitzgerald, Michael Pitt, Richard Easton
|Finding Forrester is the story of sixteen-year-old Jamal Wallace's life in the rough world of the inner city, his meeting with a literary genius, William Forrester, and the friendship that develops between the two, as Forrester becomes a mentor and assists Jamal with his transition through the doors to the more upscale and well-to-do educational environment that Jamal's intellectual and athletic abilities open for him.|
The movie opens with Jamal sleeping late on weekend in his bedroom that is stacked with books and then jumping up to go meet his friends on the schoolyard basketball court, where Jamal is an athletic standout. While playing basketball, they watch a well-dresed man drive up in his BMW and, apparently concerned with the poor neighborhood, carefully lock his car before delivering a box of goods to someone in the apartment building across the street from the schoolyard. The friends all know of a recluse (Forrester) who lives on the top floor of the building across from the schoolyard and regularly notice Forrester watching them from his window, although none of them can ever see his face clearly and no one knows his name or who he really is.
Urban legends and rumors have circulated amongst the boys about Forrester, and the next day at school, one of the boys challenges Jamal to sneak into the apartment of the recluse. Jamal, while intellectually gifted, constantly writing in notebooks and journals in private, puts little effort into his schoolwork and acts as much the way as possible that he feels his friends require of him in order to maintain their acceptance. In this instance, while apparently not thrilled with the idea, doesn't shy away from the dare. That evening, Jamal and his friends attend a game at Yankee Stadium where his elder brother is a parking attendant. After the game, the boys call Jamal out on the dare and he sneaks into Forrester's apartment. He carries his backpack with him because he has to bring something back as proof of his exploit.
After climbing the firescape and crawling into the apartment thorugh an open window, to his surprise, Jamal finds stacks upon stacks of books and literary papers throughout, drawing his interest beyond the feat his friends have dared upon him. He unlocks the multiple bolts and opens the front door a crack and then picks up a letter opener and puts it in his backpack, which he sets down in order to explore the apartment further. Suddenly, Jamal is surprised by Forrester and he runs out of the apartment, leaving his backpack behind. The next morning, his mother questions where his backpack is, to which he responds that he doesn't know it's whereabouts.
While these events pass, Jamal and his friends end up back on the basketball court the day after Jamal's failed burglary attempt and notice Forrester watching them. They pretend not to notice, continuing their three-on-three basketball game, then later see that Forrester has hung Jamal's backpack up in the window. The man in the BMW shows up again, showing fear & concern of the poor neighborhood, and Jamal introduces himself, telling the man he won't do anything to the car, to which the man responds that he's always careful with the car, it's not just that the neighborhood is bad. Jamal suggests that the BMW is just a car like any other, but the man tells Jamal that a BMW is not just any car, implying that being poor, Jamal wouldn't know much about BMW. Jamal then goes on to demonstrate that he knows that BMW was created by Franz Popp (arguably correct, although there are other founders of the company not discussed,) and that the company originally made airplane engines during World War II before converting to cars after the war and suggesting the man probably knew that already because, of course, he was leasing a BMW.
As Jamal and the man part, Jamal's backpack falls from the sky and lands next to him. He picks it up and takes it back home where he looks through to make sure all of his notebooks and materials are still there. To his surprise, he finds his writing marked up by Forrester, again, whom he still doesn't know. Jamal goes to Forrester's apartment and knocks on the door, apologizing to Forrester for the previous intrusion and asking Forrester if he would look at more of his work. Forrester responds that he would like to first see five thousand words on why Jamal should stay the fuck out of his apartment, which Jamal promptly goes home and completes in his bedroom, where the sounds of neighbors having sex demonstrate the poverty level and thin walls of the project housing environment.
As part of the backstory, Jamal has just completed state required testing where it is revealed that he is an intellectually gifted student. His school counselor sets up a meeting with Jamal's mother and a recruiter from a highly selective private school, Mailer Callow, which covets Jamal for his athletic ability, as much as for his intellectual capability. The recruiter offers Jamal an intellectual scholarship, suggesting that his play on the basketball court is welcome, but not absolutely necessary.
Jamal delivers the paper to Forrester, who runs Jamal off, but not before Jamal leaves the five thousand word paper at Forrester's door. Jamal comes back again to see if Forrester has critiqued his essay and finally, Forrester invites him in. Forrester saw the recruiter walking out of the school with Jamal and his mother and asks him who it was. Jamal tells him the recruiter was from Mailer Callow and then gives Forrester background on his father, who is or was a drug addict and that his mother threw his father out of their home, Jamal's brother leaving a little later, but not with his father. Forrester begins to feign surprise that Jamal is a black intellect to which Jamal naturally bristles and Forrester begins his tutoring of Jamal on the art of communication and literature.
Forrester helps Jamal with his writing, in exchange for Jamal keeping a secret: he is William Forrester, the secluded author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Avalon Landing, his only published book.
As part of his introduction to Mailer Callow, Jamal is given a tour of the school by Clair Spence, the daughter of a rich and prominent school board member, Dr. Spence. Clair and Jamal immediately connect and she becomes his closest friend at the school in addition to there being romantic chemistry between them. Jamal then becomes part of the basketball team, where there is only one other black player, the current team standout, John Hartwell, one whose parents are black and white. Hartwell is immediately threatened by Jamal, as Jamal plays the same position as Hartwell and also brings Hartwell's own minority background to everyone's attention. The two do not get along and Jamal eventually replaces Hartwell as the star.
In class, Jamal also has obstacles to hurdle, the most prominent being the expectations or lack of, by Professor Crawford. Crawford is arrogant and stifled by his ego and enjoys running down his students, particularly those who are not intellectually adept, students whom he derides in front of the class by beginning quotes from literature and waiting for the student to complete the quote, of which no student can ever match Crawford's skill, so as to demonstrate Crawford's mastery of literature, thereby stroking his ego. Jamal watches Crawford completely destroy an obviously struggling student and defends the student by matching Crawford and defeating him. Crawford's embarrassment brings about a grudge that festers.
Jamal later comes to learn that Crawford and Forrester are former colleagues and in fact, both attended Mailer Callow as students. Crawford has built a reputation as an authority on Forrester's works and had at one time attempted to publish a biography of Forrester, which Forrester blocked. Crawford also attempted to publish his own book, but as Forrester indicates, it was rejected because it was poor and instead of writing another one, Crawford took a writing instruction position at Mailer Callow.
With the growth of the friendship between Jamal and Forrester, Jamal convinces Forrester to go out of the apartment and attend a game at Yankee Stadium. It begins well, but later, Forrester is separated from Jamal when the crowd leaves the stadium and Jamal finds Forrester curled up by a wall going through anxiety attacks. Still, the act of leaving his home is one of growth for Forrester and his friendship with Jamal is bonded.
As part of Jamal's tutelage, Forrester gives him some of his own private essays to rewrite, with the admonishment that Jamal is never to show any of this work to anyone, to which Jamal agrees. But when a prestigious writing contest requires some of Jamal's best work, he falls back on a particular piece of Forrester's that he re-wrote and submits it as his own, not realizing it was one of Forrester's few published works. Crawford immediately finds the parallels with Forrester's piece published in 1960 and brings Jamal up on plagiarism charges, to which Jamal has to defend himself against without admitting his friendship with Forrester, as knowledge of Forrester's permission would preclude any possibility of plagiarism.
Forrester and Jamal have heated words over the issue, Forrester is angry at Jamal for breaking his promise not to show anyone the essays he allowed Jamal to rewrite and Jamal is angry at Forrester for closing himself off to the world and not having the courage to re-enter it. Forrester indicates there is no reason for him to come to Jamal's assistance and admit their relationship to Crawford, which Jamal sees as another act of cowardice, although he maintains the secrecy of their friendship.
On the basketball court, Jamal also faces another truth: that his scholarship and presence at the school was, in fact, based more on the school boards wish to win basketball championships, knowledge that is made clear to him by Dr. Pearce at a formal party and later one of Jamal's games. Dr. Pearce suggests to Jamal that as long as he can win the basketball championship, Dr. Pearce will make the plagiarism issue go away. When Jamal comes to realize his intellectual gifts have less to do with remaining at Mailer Callow than his ability to lead the team to a championship, he comes to a cross road where he wants to decide between following his literary heart or the path his physical skills can take him. At the championship game, Jamal misses a critical free throw and Mailer Callow loses. He may or may not have missed on purpose so that he can overcome his literary demons without assistance from Dr. Pearce.
When the awards ceremony for the literary contest are held, where the contestants read their own work, Jamal is discouraged from attending, but refusing to avoid the ceremony and thereby figuratively admitting guilt, he attends anyway, where Crawford's presence prevents Jamal from reading his essay. It is implied that Jamal will be kicked out of the school at the end of the year at the behest of Crawfod. During the literary contest, Forrester pays a surprise visit to the school to address the professor's accusations in person with subtlety: he reads what everyone assumes was his own unpublished writing, then reveals it as Jamal's work, demonstrating Jamal's literary gift, admitting his friendship with Jamal and thereby proving Jamal's innocence. Crawford attempts to circumvent Forrester's defense of Jamal, but other members of the school board pull Crawford aside and one of them states that all charges against Jamal will be dropped and he will be allowed to stay at Mailer Callow.
Afterwards, Forrester and Jamal talk and Forrester thanks Jamal and tells him of his desire to return to his homeland of Scotland.
The movie then cuts to Jamal's senior year of high school when Jamal is a successful student and has received many enrollment offers from prestigious universities. One day, Forrester's attorney schedules a meeting with Jamal. Jamal asks how Forrester is doing and the lawyer informs Jamal that Forrester had died of cancer. Devastated, Jamal learns that unbeknownst to him, Forrester was terminally ill while they knew each other. In accordance with Forrester's will, Jamal is given a package and a letter, in which Forrester thanks Jamal for helping him rekindle his desire to fulfill his dreams. At the end of the film, it is revealed that the package contains the manuscript for Forrester's second, and last novel, called Sunset for which Jamal is to write the foreword.