Although the film is not based on a true story, film critics have compared the character portrayed by Connery with real life writer J. D. Salinger. Connery later acknowledged that the inspiration for his role was indeed Salinger.
Sixteen-year-old Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown) plays basketball with his friends in New York. A recluse, William Forrester (Sean Connery), lives on the top floor of the building across from the court. The kids regularly notice him watching them. One of the boys dares Jamal to sneak into the apartment and retrieve an item. Jamal takes a letter opener only to be surprised by Forrester and inadvertently leaves his backpack behind. Forrester later drops Jamal's backpack onto the street. Jamal returns home to find that Forrester wrote notes in Jamal's journals. Jamal returns to Forrester's apartment and asks him to read more of his writing. Forrester tells him to begin with 5,000 words on why Jamal should "stay the fuck out of my home," which he completes and leaves on the doorstep the following day.
Jamal returns the next day, and is invited inside. Forrester knows that a representative from Mailor-Callow, a prestigious private school, offered Jamal a full academic scholarship, partly for his skill on the basketball court and partly for his test scores. Jamal learns that Forrester is the author of a famous book, Avalon Landing, and that he has never published another. Forrester agrees to help Jamal with his writing as long as Jamal does not ask about his personal life or tell others of his whearabouts.
Jamal's writing improves, which causes Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham), a professor at Mailor-Callow, to suspect plagiarism.
Jamal convinces Forrester to attend a game at Madison Square Garden, but Forrester cannot handle the crowds and has an anxiety attack. Jamal takes him instead to see Yankee Stadium late at night after everyone has gone where Forrester tells Jamal details about his family, which explains the basis of his book, specifically his brother's post-war trauma, alcoholism and Forrester's indirect role in his death. He also explains how the subsequent deaths of his parents soon after affected him and led to his becoming a recluse.
Forrester gives Jamal some of his own private essays to rewrite, with the condition that Jamal is not to take them from the apartment.
Meanwhile, there is a school writing contest coming up, and Crawford forces Jamal to stay after school so he can watch him produce an essay. Jamal can not write under such conditions and running out of time, he submits one of Forrester's exercises to the contest.
Jamal is then called in by Crawford and the school board who reveal that Forrester indeed published the article that Jamal's essay is based on. Crawford finds the parallels between the two pieces and brings Jamal up on plagiarism charges.
Jamal must either cite Forrester's work or prove he had Forrester's permission to use the material. He refuses to do either to keep his promise to Forrester. Crawford demands that Jamal write an apology letter to his classmates and read it in front of the class which Jamal also refuses which may lead to his expulsion.
Jamal tells Forrester what he has done and asks him to defend him, but Forrester is angry at Jamal for breaking his promise about taking the paper. Jamal accuses Forrester of being scared and selfish for not helping him.
Jamal is told by the school that they will drop the plagiarism charges if he wins them the state championship. Jamal does well in the game but ambiguously misses two free throw shots at the end of the game, costing the team the championship. Jamal writes an essay to Forrester that discusses the gift of friendship. Jamal's brother, Terrell (Busta Rhymes), finds the essay sealed in an envelope and gives it to Forrester.
Jamal attends the school contest. During the readings by other students, Forrester appears, announces himself and receives permission to read an essay that draws overwhelming applause from the students. As Crawford is praising the work, Forrester acknowledges his friendship with Jamal and reveals that the essay he had just read was written by Jamal. He also explains that Jamal had written the contest essay using the published title and first paragraph with permission. Crawford adamantly states that this will not change any of the board's decisions. The board overrules him and drops the plagiarism charges, readmitting Jamal's entry to the competition. After the competition, Forrester thanks Jamal for his friendship and tells him of his desire to visit his native land of Scotland.
A year later, Forrester's attorney (Matt Damon) meets with Jamal and tells him that Forrester died of cancer, with which he had been diagnosed before he met Jamal. The lawyer gives Jamal the keys to Forrester's apartment, a package, and a letter in which Forrester thanks Jamal for helping him rekindle his desire to live. The package contains the manuscript of Forrester's second novel, for which Jamal is expected to write the foreword.Sean Connery as William Forrester
Rob Brown as Jamal Wallace
F. Murray Abraham as Crawford
Anna Paquin as Claire
Busta Rhymes as Terrell
April Grace as Ms. Joyce
Michael Pitt as Coleridge
Matt Damon as Sanderson
Glenn Fitzgerald as Massie
New York poet Geoffrey Cruickshank-Hagenbuckle provided several notebooks' worth of poetry to display as Jamal's work. Principal photography was shot entirely in Manhattan, the Bronx, and Brooklyn (many Mailor Academy scenes were filmed at Regis High School on the Upper East Side of Manhattan), with some scenery and pick-up shots made in suburban Toronto, Ontario during post-production. Parts of the film were also shot in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. filming occurred April 3-June 10, 2000.
Rob Brown auditioned for the film, hoping to make enough money to pay his $300 cell phone bill. Gus Van Sant had him read a second time and then cast him as one of the leads. Before Sean Connery was cast as William Forrester, Bill Murray was considered for the role.
The film received limited release on December 22, 2000 in 200 theaters, grossing USD $701,207 in the opening weekend. It later received commercial release where it opened at #1 in 2001 theaters, grossing $11,112,139 in the opening weekend. It went on to gross $51,804,714 in the United States and Canada and $28,245,050 elsewhere for a worldwide total of $80,049,764.
Upon its initial release, Finding Forrester received generally positive reviews. It garnered two thumbs up from Roger Ebert and Richard Roeper, with Roeper considering it one of the 10 best films of the year. In late 2009, Roeper included the film at number 64 on his list of the 100 best movies of the decade.
Review aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes gave the film a score of 74% based on review from 125 critics, with an average score of 6.5/10. Metacritic, which assigns a weighted average score out of 100 to reviews from mainstream critics, gives the film a score of 62 based on 27 reviews. CinemaScore reported that audiences gave the film a rare "A+" grade.Track listing
- "Recollections" (Billy Cobham, Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette, Dave Holland, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul)
- "Little Church" (Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette, Steve Grossman, Herbie Hancock, Dave Holland, Keith Jarrett, John McLaughlin)
- "Black Satin" (David Creamer, Miles Davis, Jack DeJohnette, Herbie Hancock, James Mtume, Badal Roy, Collin Walcott)
- "Under a Golden Sky" (Bill Frisell)
- "Happy House" (Ed Blackwell, Bobby Bradford, Don Cherry, Ornette Coleman, Charlie Haden, Billy Higgins, Dewey Redman)
- "Over the Rainbow (Photo Book)" (Bill Frisell)
- "Lonely Fire" [Excerpt] (Chick Corea, Miles Davis, Dave Holland, Bennie Maupin, John McLaughlin, Wayne Shorter, Joe Zawinul)
- "Over the Rainbow/What a Wonderful World" (Israel Kamakawiwo'ole)
- "Vonetta" (Ron Carter, Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Tony Williams)
- "Coffaro's Theme" (Curtis Fowlkes, Bill Frisell, Eyvind Kang, Ron Miles)
- "Foreigner in a Free Land" (Ornette Coleman, The London Symphony Orchestra, David Measham)
- "Beautiful E." (Joey Baron, Kermit Driscoll, Bill Frisell, Hank Roberts)
- "In a Silent Way [DJ Cam Remix]" (Miles Davis)
"Coffaro's Theme" was originally composed as part of soundtrack of an Italian successful movie, La scuola.
The song "Gassenhauer", from Schulwerk by Carl Orff and arranged and produced by Bill Brown is a notable track that appears in the actual film but was not included on the soundtrack. It is played during Forrester's bike ride.Finding Forrester: A Novel by James Ellison, Mike Rich (Screenplay by). 2000. ISBN 9781557044792