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Gus Van Sant, the American director known best known for the blockbuster hit Good Will Hunting, starring Matt Damon and Ben Affleck.
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The film, starring Uma Thurman, proved to be a critical and commercial disappointment. A critic at The New York Times wrote that the film was "one of the more intriguing failures of its day” and critic Roger Ebert described it as "one of the more empty, pointless, baffling films I can remember." But Van Sant made a critical comeback with his first major studio film,
To Die For (1995). Nicole Kidman starred as an ambitious woman who aspires to be a television personality. Trapped in a dead-end marriage with a bartender (Matt Dillon), she enlists the subjects of her documentary—three teenagers, including one played by Joaquin Phoenix—to help her improve her personal life and career through murderous means. The dark comedy was widely praised.
Making his most mainstream film to date, Van Sant directed Good Will Hunting (1997). The film starred Matt Damon as a young, tough university janitor with a hidden talent for mathematics. The popular actor was thrilled to work with Van Sant, telling The Advocate in 1998 that "I was beside myself ... I was excited about his helping me bring an edge to the character." After anonymously solving a challenging puzzle left on a classroom chalkboard, Damon’s character is eventually tutored by a professor. He also receives counseling from a therapist played by Robin Williams. Rounding out the cast was Ben Affleck, who played one of Damon’s local buddies, and Minnie Driver, who co-starred as his girlfriend. The film was a commercial and critical success, earning more than $138 million at the box office and taking home numerous awards. In total, Good Will Hunting received nine Academy Award nominations, including one for best director for Van Sant.
Van Sant's next move puzzled many in the film industry. He decided to do a remake of Alfred Hitchcock's classic Psycho (1960)—not a modern retelling, but literally a shot-by-shot retelling of the original, only this time filming it in color. This time around, Vincent Vaughn played the creepy proprietor of the Bates Motel—a role made famous by Anthony Perkins—and Anne Heche relived the horrific shower scene that originally featured Janet Leigh. Van Sant told Newsweek that his biggest reason for doing the remake was "that nobody's ever done it. If you put things together that have never been put together nobody knows what will happen—to me that's a great reason to try it. You might discover something."
Again exploring the role of the outsider, Van Sant directed Finding Forrester (2000), which told the story of a young black student at a predominantly white private school. The student finds support from a reclusive writer played by Sean Connery. After this major studio release, Van Sant returned to his independent film roots, making a much smaller, more focused film, Gerry (2003). The film featured two characters, played by Matt Damon and Casey Affleck, hiking together in the desert.
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