Gus Van Sant directs this good-looking New York story about a 16-year-old black kid from the Bronx, Jamal Wallace (Rob Brown), who wins a scholarship to a good private prep school in Manhattan. Sean Connery plays William Forrester, a writer who becomes his tutor and mentor. Forrester has published only one book, which Jamal's new English teacher, Robert Crawford (F. Murray Abraham) claims is the great twentieth-century novel. A number of other story threads show through, but merely hint at a wider tapestry, thereby avoiding any over-familiar dead-end alleyways.
The central relationship between Forrester and Jamal develops slowly (Connery playing the eccentric recluse role he practised elsewhere in movies such as Entrapment and The Rock). Brown's performance is remarkable for its natural warmth. His is a real and positive portrayal of a smart kid from an underprivileged background who shines when he is given an opportunity. It's cool to be bright and well read with a switched on attitude. He challenges both Forrester and Crawford (old literary rivals). His friendship with Claire (Anna Paquin) is subtle and plausible - again one of those wisely subdued plot elements, alongside Busta Rhymes's low-key performance as Jamal's older brother.
Nugget: Even the sports action scenes are well acted and choreographed. Van Sant barely puts a foot wrong.