A Beautiful Mind
2001, PG-13, 129 min. Directed by Ron Howard. Starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Rapp, Josh Lucas, Judd Hirsch, Adam Goldberg, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Austin Pendleton.
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Dec. 28, 2001
So many things come together so beautifully in this movie based on the life of John Forbes Nash Jr. that you're likely to find yourself willing to benignly overlook its occasional biographical lapses and narrative sweetening. The movie is as strong a performance as Russell Crowe has ever delivered as he spans various ages of Nash's life and health with the aid of several prostheses but mostly a sense of bottled-up physical intensity that causes the viewer to hang on his every move. As Nash's wife Alicia, Jennifer Connelly comes fully into her own as an actor, luring our rapt attention with each physical movement and her sly verbal delivery. Nash's story is that of an eccentric mathematics genius, whose postulations on game theory as a young academic revolutionized the field and contradicted the previous two centuries' paradigms of economic theory. The movie fortunately spares viewers from heavy immersion into the details and mechanics of mathematics and analytical logic, although some audience members may find the soft-pedaling bothersome. A Beautiful Mind picks up Nash's story as he arrives on the Princeton campus for graduate study as the recipient of the department's most coveted fellowship. It's abundantly clear that he's an extremely odd duck, and that his social skills are virtually nil. He's obsessed with only one thing: finding one truly original idea. His unconventional methods, however, are what strike everyone else around him as truly original. Following Princeton, Nash is accepted for a prestigious research position at MIT, but with the Cold War of the Fifties raging around him, Nash consents to do research for the shadowy William Parcher (played with Big Brother precision by Ed Harris). Nash's mercurial rise becomes undone by the onset of schizophrenia. It is this aspect of the story that Howard's directorial touch is most deft. Nash's hallucinations and obsessions are so skillfully woven into the fabric of the story that we are almost as unwilling as Nash to believe the psychiatric diagnosis of his latent condition. Akiva Goldman's screenplay lays on excess amounts of conventional stuff about the all-powerful love of a good woman, and the dotty but avuncular ways of a brilliant old man. But Howard's technique always rescues the story from bathos and overkill. Howard remains true to the story's title, A Beautiful Mind. It is this that he wishes to show to us: how a mind goes where it goes and accomplishes what it does. Certainly, no easy task. Yet he finds organic visual means for conveying these ideas, and actors up to the task of rendering the activity of the mind in physical terms. We witness the agony of the insulin cures to which Nash is subjected, but the movie would have us ultimately believe that Nash uses the power of his intellect to corral his demons. It's a quixotic idea, and I'm not sure it's sound methodology or even a viable strategy. But I'm willing to take my film inspirations from the rare corners in which I find them. And an example of someone harnessing his mind in order to overcome his mind is a rare work of cinema, indeed.