erasing clouds

A Beautiful Mind

reviewed by Jonathan Dirksen

The Mix:
2 parts Pollock
1 part Darren Aronofsky's Pi
part Rain Man
part Dead Poet's Society

The Bottom Line:
An extraordinary journey through real life mathematician John Nash's genius, mental illness, and the thin line that separates the two with flawless performances by the entire cast. (8.5 out of 10)

An ambitious film for an ambitious crowd of players (director Ron Howard, actors Russell Crowe and Ed Harris), A Beautiful Mind captures the feverish drama of real-life mathematician and Nobel Prize Laureate John Nash's life. The film follows Nash, a numerical genius, in graduate school at Princeton University where he writes his groundbreaking dissertation on game theory. Upon completion, Nash begins work at MIT where he theorizes on math and economics. Ultimately, his fame reaches a crescendo in 1958 when Fortune magazine singles him out as a one of America's brightest mathematicians of the future. Soon after, however, Nash becomes engulfed by paranoid-schizophrenia. His marriage begins to deteriorate and his life becomes a living hell, torn between those he cares for, those who protect him and the numbers he loves. In due course, Nash defeats his paranoia and he grows old in humbling fashion.

In what should (and probably will) be an Oscar nominated performance, Russell Crowe portrays John Nash in stunning style. A delicate balance of quirkiness, passion and absolute ingenuity, Crowe captures Nash's subtle tendencies and palpable psychosis. He shines when he's supposed to and muffles when he has to.

Opposite Russell Crowe stands Jennifer Connelly's resilient depiction of Alicia Nash, John's wife. She must struggle to love her husband despite the illness that threatens to tear their lives apart. Connelly reveals believable characteristics in Alicia, and provides a sensibility to compliment John's eccentricity. Overall an excellent performance.

The one character that threatens to steal the show, however, is Ed Harris' Parcher, a governmental "big brother" who recruits Nash as a top-secret code breaker. Part Man-In-Black, part Patton, Parcher represents the McCarthy-ism of the time and the suspicion that reinforces it. He wraps Nash around his finger with vague assignments and peculiar actions. Although only on screen a few dozen times, the audience sees Parcher as much as Nash does; Harris demands the audience's attention to understand Nash's confusion.

In addition to superb acting, Ron Howard's direction of this film deserves ample recognition. After a five year hiatus from profound filmmaking (during which he directed the sub-par Edtv and creative-yet-bubble-gummy How the Grinch Stole Christmas) he has returned to the gutsier Howard of old, evoking visions of Apollo 13 and Ransom. His mature vision for Mind features delicate cinematography as well as using the camera as a portal into Nash's mental illness. The audience themselves experience, first hand, what Nash is going through. Through this simple task of camera work and story telling, Howard successfully turns the audience into part of the film.

My only complaint about this film lies within its authenticity. This is an autobiography of sorts. Obviously, it would be impossible to produce a completely accurate portrayal of Nash's entire life. However, it seems Ron Howard conveniently overlooked some of Nash's homosexual tendencies and his antipathy towards his son to produce a certain character that my not have been true to life.

To some, these details seem to paint John Nash in a less likable picture. Nonetheless, they are a part of his life. Did Howard cover them up so the audience would like Nash, and in turn this film, better? Perhaps, but the truth of the matter is that this is a story. Storytelling has always been keen to falling prey to the narrator's bias. Although Howard may have held a few things back, he still directed an absolutely stunning film of one man's mentality and his struggles to control it. These gripes turn insignificant when compared to the magnitude of this film.

Overall, I really liked A Beautiful Mind. There are a number of literary and thematic elements that run through it like wild fire and the actors capture them in true form. There is laughter, there is drama, there is suspense; this is what a film looks like when absolutely everything goes right.

Issue 8, January 2002 | next article

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