A Beautiful Mind

on December 21, 2001 by Francesca Dinglasan
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"A Beautiful Mind's" inarguably greatest strength is a beautiful performance by Russell Crowe, whose depiction of schizophrenic genius John Forbes Nash Jr. is continuously compelling--even through the most vexing moments of heavy sentimentality and unabashed melodrama. Based on the life of the Nobel Prize-winning mathematical theorist, Crowe's big-screen invocation of Nash mirrors his Oscar-awarded and -nominated depictions, respectively, of a fallen Roman general in "Gladiator" and a tormented scientist in "The Insider," as an accomplishment of total character immersion, bringing the conflicted persona persuasively to life.

The plot follows Nash from his years as a brilliant but highly eccentric graduate student at Princeton, where his fellow scholars (Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas and Anthony Rapp) are simultaneously confounded by and sympathetic to their erratic classmate. Chronicling Nash's professional progression in the 1950s as both a researcher/reluctant professor at MIT, where he meets his future wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), and a consultant for the Pentagon, decoding intercepted Russian messages, the film plods along rather sluggishly, weighed down by director Ron Howard's oversimplified and near-cartoonish interpretation of the worlds of academia and governmental intelligence gathering.

The initially conventional story, however, takes an intensely absorbing turn when Nash, after years of deep and necessarily secretive involvement in Cold War message decoding, is diagnosed with schizophrenia, throwing his--and consequently the audience's--perception of reality and fantasy into utter chaos.

Crowe's haunting embodiment of the painful manifestations of mental illness, along with Connelly's own credible portrayal of the heartache suffered by someone close to an afflicted individual, are engaging characterizations that have made the two actors favorites for Academy Award nominations. However, while the movie explores the mechanics of an extraordinarily brilliant mind, it doesn't seem to extend any presupposition of intelligence to its audience. Seemingly untrusting of the viewers' ability to be moved by the onscreen performances, the musical score is unrelentingly intrusive in attempting to guide emotional reactions. Similarly, Nash's groundbreaking theoretical work is conveyed through the most frivolous of metaphors, minimizing the singularity of his intellectual contributions.

As is the case in many era-specific Hollywood productions based on "fact," "A Beautiful Mind" downplays the significance of the story's historicity, overlooking the relevance of the United States' anti-Communist paranoia during the period--a factor that would considerably inform and complicate Nash's fears regarding Russians and his intelligence gathering activities. It is by no small effort, therefore, that these notable flaws are assuaged by fine acting, which, in a biopic about a remarkable individual, stands out as the most meaningful aspect of "A Beautiful Mind." Starring Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Christopher Plummer and Vivien Cardone. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Akiva Goldsman. Produced by Brian Grazer and Ron Howard. A Universal release. Drama. Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content and a scene of violence. Running time: 135 min

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