M O V I E   R E V I E W   B Y   E L I Z A B E T H   A B E L E

 
With A Beautiful Mind, Ron Howard has created an elegant film, a portrait of the intricate puzzle of the mind and its amazing ability to comfort as well as to entrap. This is the story of a man with an extraordinary mind whose most difficult equation becomes how to live an ordinary yet beautiful life.

This film is "inspired" by the story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Forbes Nash, Jr., whose genius is intimately bound up with his schizophrenia. A Beautiful Mind follows John Nash (played by Russell Crowe) from his arrival at Princeton University in 1947 as a graduate student, to the awarding of his Nobel Prize in 1994, in recognition of the tremendous value of his game theory.

Crowe presents Nash as an introvert always on high boil as his mind diagrams patterns in light refraction, football matches, or flocks of pigeons--looking for his original idea that will make his life matter. He feels uncomfortable among his classmates. He both dismisses them as lesser minds yet realizes that they have been more successful in achieving recognition, in functioning in the world, than he has been. His roommate Charles (Paul Bettany), an English major, provides him comfort, friendship, and needed distraction from his intense competition with his colleagues. Nash’s drive to be the best makes any achievement fleeting and isolates him at the top of his pyramid.

He finds the challenge that he has been searching from William Parcher (Ed Harris), a mysterious agent with the Department of Defense, who both recognizes his ability as the "best natural codebreaker" and the value of his isolated lifestyle to top secret work. A persistent physics student, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), challenges both Nash’s isolation and his life of the mind, pushing him to open up. The conflict between his marriage to Alicia and his secret work for Parcher unfortunately upsets the delicate balance between his genius and his schizophrenia.

The passionate, charismatic performances of Paul Bettany, Ed Harris, and Jennifer Connelly balance Crowe’s simmering introversion, that peeks out in his nervous ticks and dancing eyes, constantly laughing at his private jokes. Roger Deakins -- who as cinematographer for the Coen Brothers is experienced at evoking askew universes -- films the story from the perspective of Nash’s mind, capturing the rapid way he sorts people and objects into patterns.

For a film about lost brilliance and mental illness, A Beautiful Mind manages to avoid the maudlin, moving carefully from passionate cleverness, to suspense, to surprising revelations, to a disciplined move toward love and life --a life that is never perfect nor easy, but it is lived. James Horner’s score (he also scored Titanic) brilliantly follows the arc of Nash’s life. The opening score is determinedly repetitive (more melodic than Philip Glass), celebrating the passion of mathematics and patterns. The film ends with a lush ballad, as Nash has discovered the value of the heart, the value of true connections with others. As John and Alicia gradually age, the make-up is subtle and convincing, rather than a rubbery mask. As the decades pass, Crowe presents distinct versions of John Nash.

As in his other films, Howard displays a talent to draw sincere, complex performances from actors and the ability to create a strong ensemble. In addition, he shows that he can be as clever a filmmaker as Soderbergh or Shyamalan, with as sure a hand in seamlessly holding together a complex script. Do not come to A Beautiful Mind expecting Shine, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Girl Interrupted: this is a unique achievement by a confident filmmaker.

Paul Bettany builds on his bravado performance as Geoff Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, bringing warmth and laughter to Nash’s tower. Jennifer Connelly’s strong performance adds intelligence, humor, and grit to her intense beauty as Alicia Nash, proving herself a worthy adversary to Harris’ controlling and dangerous Parcher. The supporting cast adds a rich texture to the film: Judd Hirsch as the exacting department head; Christopher Plummer as the expert psychiatrist; Josh Lucas as Hansen, Nash’s chief adversary and a friend that he could not recognize; and Adam Goldberg as Sol, who brings a self-awareness and wry humor to the Princeton/MIT circle.

A Beautiful Mind is a film that defies easy categorization, providing a shimmering anatomy of an extraordinary life, a life made richer and more interesting by the intense journeys of a mind.


[rating: 4 of 4 stars]

Distributor Web site: Universal Pictures
Movie Web site: A Beautiful Mind

 


 

Photo credits: © 2001 Universal Pictures. All rights reserved.