A Beautiful Mind

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.

A note to readers: Bold and uncensored, The Austin Chronicle has been Austin’s independent news source for almost 40 years, expressing the community’s political and environmental concerns and supporting its active cultural scene. Now more than ever, we need your support to continue supplying Austin with independent, free press. If real news is important to you, please consider making a donation of $5, $10 or whatever you can afford, to help keep our journalism on stands.

Support the Chronicle  

READ MORE
More Ron Howard
Opie on Top
Opie on Top
AFF to honor Ron Howard's extraordinary contribution to filmmaking

Kimberley Jones, July 14, 2009

More Ron Howard Films
Pavarotti
Ron Howard's documentary shows the great tenor in all his humanity

Steve Davis, June 21, 2019

Solo: A Star Wars Story
Should you have a bad feeling about this stand-alone Star Wars?

Richard Whittaker, May 25, 2018

More by Marjorie Baumgarten
Echo in the Canyon
History of the Laurel Canyon folk-rock scene gets lost in its own winding paths

June 21, 2019

The Last Black Man in San Francisco
A gentle, poetic look at gentrification that shimmers with the winds of history

June 14, 2019

KEYWORDS FOR THIS FILM

A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard, Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Anthony Rapp, Josh Lucas, Judd Hirsch, Adam Goldberg, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, Ed Harris, Austin Pendleton

MORE IN THE ARCHIVES
NEWSLETTERS
One click gets you all the newsletters listed below

Breaking news, arts coverage, and daily events

Can't keep up with happenings around town? We can help.

Austin's queerest news and events

Updates for SXSW 2019

All questions answered (satisfaction not guaranteed)

Information is power. Support the free press, so we can support Austin.   Support the Chronicle