December 26, 2001

A Beautiful Mind

The trailers and commercials hyped A Beautiful Mind as a code breaking spy thriller only if it were...

beautifulRussell Crowe stars in the story (based on real events) of John Forbes Nash Jr, a mathematics genius. In the first third of the film, we learn that Nash is brilliant, intolerant of lazy thinking, and introverted to a fault. "I don’t like other people, and they don’t like me" he remarks. His whole mind is tied to creating a 'truly original idea'. Director Ron Howard (Apollo 13, Ransom) goes to great lengths to show us how revolutionary and cool Nash’s ideas are. Thankfully, Nash only explains himself once, and then at a suitably earthy level that everyone can understand.

The first half of the film feels like Good Will Hunting crossed with North By Northwest. A math genius plunged into cloak-and-dagger intrigue. Only at the midway point do we learn that there’s more in Nash’s (and Howard’s) Mind than we thought.

Howard is the king of the safe, dependable movie you can safely take your parents to see. Nothing challenging, nothing revolutionary, just quality, mainstream entertainment. There’s nothing remarkable here, except for another (sigh) revelatory performance from Russell Crowe. There are no great lines, no great scenes, but to watch Crowe react to the outside stimulus to his interior world. Howard draws out Nash’s overactive mind through a labyrinth of mathematical notation, but we can see Nash’s wheels turning in the eyes of Crowe.

Jennifer Connelly (Pollock, Requiem for a Dream), in her highest profile role of her career, is splendid as Nash’s wife and only connection to the real world. She is an intelligent, educated woman who loves Nash’s heart over his mind. Her character is well-formed on the page, and she plays the conflicts between the heart and mind, the real world and the metaphysical, with grace.

Ed Harris is Ed Harris. Always superb (Pollock, Apollo 13), he does a fine job as a G-man doggedly pursuing Nash’s genius for the good of the country. In his 1940’s spook suit, he looks tough and mean enough to beat up Humphrey Bogart.

The movie has the potential to be 'excellent', but steps back into 'very good' territory in the last third. When making a biopic of a real person (Nash is alive and well) you must choose whether to tell THE story OF a man’s life, or A story IN a man’s life. Howard tries for both and the movie suffers for it. Once Nash conquers his struggles, the film continues for (what feels like) twenty minutes, covering the Sixties, Seventies, Eighties and Nineties. This incredibly boring section is necessary to get us to a 1994 Nobel Prize ceremony scene, and a completely fictional accepance speech. The story IN his life was over decades earlier. If Nash were a fictional character, these 20 minutes would never have made the final cut. Howard felt the need (out of respect) to conclude the movie on the best, happiest, and least ambiguous note possible. No doubt can be left in the viewer’s mind that everything turned out okay.

Crowe shines in this otherwise solid, workmanlike biography. You can always count on Howard for quality product, but it wouldn’t hurt the film to trim a little. (AMC Framingham, wth my friend Lyza)