Director: Ron Howard
Running Time: 135 Minutes
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany
Winner: Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress
A film based on a novel of the same name by Sylvia Nassar and focusing on John Nash, the American mathematician known for his theories and equilibriums that have been widely adapted into game theory, economics, and differential geometry. Russell Crowe stars in the titular role in a departure from his usual, less cerebral roles.
The socially awkward John joins Princeton in post war America, adopting an unorthodox approach where he does not attend classes in hopes of creating a totally original and uninfluenced idea.
While he is socially awkward and intellectually arrogant, Nash is supported by his eccentric roommate Charles, played wonderfully by the ever-pleasing Paul Bettany. He is lightly mocked by his coursemates particularly the jocular Martin. While there is still a clear respect for the capable Nash from the others, his tutors are exasperated with the presumption and arrogance of his approach.
He, however, does create his original thought, debunking the established economic theorem of Adam Smith thereby creating a new rule of governing dynamics. Reluctantly, his tutor accepts that his breakthrough guarantees him a placement wherever he would choose. As expected, he chooses the highly sought after, but fictional, Wheeler lab. A placement Martin, was also in line for, and had been confident he would achieve. The boisterous Martin, is crestfallen but ultimately magnanimous.
Remaining friends with Charles , he grows to find his placement is not what it seemed. The required teaching of students his role requires angers him. Also his social ire and lack of patience make him completely unsuited to teaching. However despite his prickly surface he eventually marries MIT student Alicia, played by Jennifer Connelly.
The stress and lack of interest leaves him with a complete psychiatric breakdown. This forces Nash to confront his demons and change his life accordingly. He is heavily medicated and yet completely disillusioned with his clinical diagnosis. His refusal to accept this ultimately leads to the near death of his infant son. A moment of clarity then leads to the realization of what must happen.
Eventually John returns to Princeton and works under his old rival, Martin, who is now head of the mathematics department. As he ages the world around him modernizes and he begins to teach and inspire. This culminates with the prestigious recognition of a Nobel Prize.
A Beautiful Mind is a visually striking and eerily engaging drama with an anti-hero likeable enough to keep you on his side and with enough imperfections to keep you interested.
The wonderful James Horner does a typically stellar job of creating a soundtrack that seems to leak from the scenery. For a film with no real action and special effects, it has quite a tense buildup, and I credit that to Mr Horner.
The editing team of Daniel P Hanley and Mike Hill are long term collaborators with Mr Howard and it shows in the seamless hand-off between picture and takes. Making a game of Go as exciting as any Russian Roulette scene. The standalone car chases and gunplay feel as organic as such polar opposites could ever be in the same feature, and it is a testament to a collaborative magic such as found here.
As mentioned, Ed Harris is masterful as the slippery Agent Parcher, and Paul Bettany is his usual screen-magnet as Charles, the charismatic, good-hearted, ubiquitous best friend to the frankly undeserving Nash.
Jennifer Connelly, however, does not work so well. Her character is all over the place. In implausible courtship (we have already seen, hilariously, John Nash’s lack of romantic prowess in a memorable bar scene as he approaches a young girl) this beautiful and intelligent young lady falling for a rude and coarse, not to mention, detached older man. Flitting from dramatically emotional to dippy and lovelorn, I felt my investment in her as the intelligent woman from MIT, was lost when she assaults one of Johns colleagues who refuses to let her see confidential documentation. Her brattish stomping and demands were mismatched to the severity of what she was dealing with.
This is not a comment on Connelly though. Most likely it would be because of what is missing from the character of John Nash himself caused them to make hers so imbalanced. There is no mention of the sex offences, dramatic over-simplification of his contributions, and ignoring his vocal anti-Semitism. Not to mention the fact that Alicia left him and remarried him after his Nobel Prize. The widely reported claims of his homosexuality are left out but that makes sense as it would have felt tacked on and largely irrelevant.
It would be only fair to point out that the filmmakers openly said this was never to be a literal telling of John Nash’s life story. Making the hallucinations he experienced visual which they never were, is filmmakers licence and makes logistical sense. That said, it does still cause something to be missing and takes final shine from the overall film.
This is a wholly enjoyable picture. There are parts where you maybe feel it owes you more. That the time lapse is too great, and the exposition does not take advantage of the story when it should do. (I cannot embellish withouth losing my "Spoiler-Free" label, sorry!) Crowe, at no point, feels out of place as some would have expected, under direction of a veteran like Howard he came out as a perfect cast.
This is perhaps one of these true stories where you are better off not learning any more about the subject. I think that is where that little difference between great and really great evaporates.