Beautiful Mind, A (United States, 2001)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

A Beautiful Mind is a beautifully written, effectively acted, and meticulously crafted effort that is likely to remind many viewers of a simple axiom: a movie doesn't have to be groundbreaking to be compelling. Originality is a prized commodity because there is so little of it in Hollywood these days, but, when filmmakers do such a skillful job with familiar elements, their efforts should be acknowledged. Affecting without being overtly manipulative, A Beautiful Mind tells the life story of John Nash, a Nobel prize winner who struggled through most of his adult life with schizophrenia. As directed by Ron Howard, this becomes a tale not only of one man's battle to overcome his own disability, but of the overreaching power of love - a theme that has been embraced by films as diverse as It's a Wonderful Life and Rocky.

A Beautiful Mind may have been developed to be a crowd-pleaser as well as a tear-jerker, but genuine craft is evident in the way the pieces were assembled. The movie never becomes cloying, nor does it threaten to drown us beneath an outpouring of false sentiment. This is no Patch Adams, filled with saccharine-coated artificiality. The characters are effectively drawn and their plight touches an emotional chord. A Beautiful Mind offers a catharsis without insulting the intelligence. Sadly, too few movies these days can make a similar claim. This film argues that there are still instances when Hollywood-produced, big budget movies are worth a viewer's investment of time and money.

A Beautiful Mind purports to tell the true story of Professor John Nash (Russell Crowe), but, while the gross facts may be accurate, one must expect embellishment of the details. Narrative features are not constrained by the same rules that limit documentaries. We first meet Nash as a student at Princeton in 1947. He is brilliant but erratic - a mathematical genius who lacks social skills. He is aided in making it through those difficult years by his roommate, Charles (Paul Bettany). Years later, following an astounding breakthrough that revolutionizes economics, John is teaching at M.I.T. and doing code-breaking work for a shady government agent, William Parcher (Ed Harris). It's at this time that John meets, falls in love with, and marries Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). But his happy world soon starts to crumble. John is afflicted with paranoid hallucinations; by the time he is taken to a mental hospital under the care of the mysterious Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), he is diagnosed as having an advanced case of schizophrenia.

For Russell Crowe, the winner of last year's Best Actor Oscar, this is another opportunity to broaden his range. Crowe successfully buries his personality beneath Nash's, allowing the character to come to the fore (a necessity, considering the actor's current load of off-screen baggage). Much as he did in The Insider, Crowe shows no difficulty inhabiting the skin of a real-life individual who has a stronger intellect than physique. And, when it comes to the sequences depicting Nash battling his demons, Crowe's performance is utterly convincing. Meanwhile, Jennifer Connelly is luminous as Alicia. Although the showier performance belongs to Crowe, it is Connelly's complex work, depicting a woman torn by love for and fear of the same man, that elevates the film to a higher level. The actress was unjustly overlooked for Requiem for a Dream; hopefully, the Academy will not repeat that mistake. Solid support is provided by Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer.

A viewer certainly doesn't have to be a mathematical expert to appreciate what A Beautiful Mind offers, although those with a strong left-brain component may relate better to John Nash than right-brainers. The movie tosses mathematical theories and theorems in the audience's direction, but explains them simply and lucidly; no one is going to become lost or bored. A Beautiful Mind isn't about mathematics except as a symbol. It's about human frailty and the ability to triumph over it. Nash could just as easily be a doctor, a lawyer, or a construction worker and the essence of the story would not change.

The strength of the writing and production values elevate A Beautiful Mind far above "disease of the week movie" quality. At the core of the picture lies the relationship between John and Alicia, and the tribulations that the strength of their bond allows them to overcome. On one occasion, a friend asks Alicia how she can continue to stay with her stricken husband, and she replies with a succinct explanation that everyone who has ever been in love will understand. A Beautiful Mind defies the conventional Hollywood wisdom that love is passion and romance. For John and Alicia, it is painful, heartbreaking work. And, while hearts and flowers are great for a fantasy, this is the kind of expression of emotion that touches a deeper chord.

Beautiful Mind, A (United States, 2001)

Ranked #9 in Berardinelli's Top 10 of 2001
Run Time: 2:12
U.S. Release Date: 2001-12-21
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Violence, Profanity, Sexual Situations)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1