A Beautiful Mind

I screened this movie on DVD on February 3, 2003.  Afterwards, I was so moved by the story I had to get my thoughts down, hence this review, which has never been published until now.  Only one change has been made.  In the first paragraph, I mention how many Oscars the movie won “in 2002”.  Originally, because of when it was written, it said “last year”.  Everything else is exactly how I left it 3 years ago.
When I was a teenager, I really got into the whole idea of being a movie critic but I had no clue what I was doing.   I had no idea how to properly screen a film or how to assess its merits and flaws.  I started when I was 15.  I remember I saw 25 movies in my local cinemas during the summer of 1990, mostly with friends, occasionally by myself.  For the next 6 years or so, I spent most of my solitary time getting up close and personal with hundreds of films both in the theatre and on home video.  I wrote hundreds of movie reviews, for myself and for my high school and later, my college newspapers.  It took about 3 years or so but I finally got the basic gist of the whole thing.  Since then, I’ve cut down on writing reviews, but that might change with this new website of mine.
I mention all of this as an introduction to this section devoted exclusively to film assessments.  This review of A Beautiful Mind is one of the best I’ve written.  When I look back at old reviews from the ’90s, I shock myself with how far I’ve come. 
If you’ve never seen this movie, screen it first (I highly recommend it) and then come back and read the review.  If you’ve already seen it, by all means, have a look-see.  I feel it’s best to see a film, then look at someone’s assessment of it.  It gives you a better understanding of what the reviewer is trying to say. 
Without further ado, here’s my view on A Beautiful Mind.
By Dennis Earl

Now that all the needless controversy has faded into deserved oblivion, this is a perfect opportunity to examine a film that was unfairly attacked for its perceived shortcomings. A Beautiful Mind, the movie that managed to snag 4 Oscars in 2002 including Best Picture, was savagely attacked for its fictional elements and, most distastefully, was the unfortunate victim of a negative smear campaign that may have cost Russell Crowe his second Academy Award.

It is not the role of the motion picture to tell a real story without embellishments. Sometimes, what worked in real life doesn’t quite gel in the context of a celluloid dramatization, hence the perfectly acceptable practice of changing elements of the real events to better suit the re-creation. Many movies based on real people and events are somewhat changed for the big screen. The controversy that seemed to follow A Beautiful Mind at every turn was deeply hypocritical.

A Beautiful Mind is John Nash’s story. The story of a brilliant mathematical theorist who, like a lot of geniuses, walks a fine line between extreme intelligence and extreme madness. The first hour of the film allows the audience to see the world the way he sees it. He confides in his Princeton University roommate, Charlie (Paul Bettany), that he doesn’t care for human beings and the feeling is mutual. Charlie represents the best friend he doesn’t really have but secretly craves: funny, charming and always supportive. His inability to adapt to social environments and loosen up leads to his resentment of humans in general.

The film covers 47 years in Nash’s life beginning with his Princeton days in 1947 as an uninterested and yet obsessively ambitious student to the wonderful night in late 1994 when he wins the prestigious Nobel Prize. He doesn’t care for his university classes which don’t challenge him and he’s snide to some of his classmates since he views their published academic theories with equal doses of scorn and jealousy. He doesn’t see in their work what he hopes to accomplish in his: true innovation.

One night, while in a bar with some of his colleagues, he notices 5 beautiful women walking in and finds the missing link to his theory of “governing dynamics”, something that will radically alter how many different industries solve problems. I’m not sure I understood it entirely but it is interesting nonetheless. (The movie’s only failure is its inability to explain all of Nash’s discoveries in layman’s terms.)

It is at MIT, years after his stint at Princeton, that two important events dramatically change his life. As a reluctant teacher, he meets his future bride, Alicia (Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly), who unlike all of the women he’s previously encountered, is not afraid of him and accepts him for who he is. One of the best things about this movie is the story of their relationship. Immediately, she’s calm, patient and quite smitten with Nash. Nash is also instantly attracted but so socially awkward that it’s up to Alicia to loosen him up and prove to him that her growing love for him is indeed real. Connelly and Crowe have wonderful chemistry together and it’s easy to understand her devotion to him despite the guilt-ridden feelings she harbours about living with his disease which strains things considerably.

The other important event is a secret meeting with an intimidating character named William Parcher (another excellent performance by Ed Harris). He works for the Dept. of Defense and gives Nash the assignment of his life: to search through periodicals and newspapers and seek out possible secret messages that the Soviets are sending out to sleeper agents in the US in order to launch a devastating terrorist attack on America. It sounds crazy enough to be true thanks to the first-rate acting, the sharp writing, and Ron Howard’s confident directing. But it’s not. After a tense conversation between Parcher and Nash at Nash’s office, midway through the film, the secret is out. All is not well with John Nash. His big assignment is the result of his scarily advancing schizophrenia. And soon, his incredibly devoted wife, Alicia, worries that there won’t be anything she can do to help him through his terrible crisis. Meanwhile, their sex life suffers (Connelly does a terrific job expressing her frustration) and the baby they just had is not always safe in his arms. Neither is Alicia, for that matter.

Christopher Plummer does a good job playing Nash’s understandingly calm shrink who we meet after Nash mysteriously runs out of the auditorium where he was giving a lecture. During a later scene at the Nash residence, after a brutal stay at Plummer’s hospital, John stubbornly feels that his disease is nothing more than a complex mathematical equation waiting to be solved. All he needs is time, he says, and he can beat it. But sadly, his dilemma is terminal. All he can do is to continue to interact with the real world and ignore the delusional characters that had a paralyzing stranglehold on him for so many years. It seems the most impossible task to accomplish.

Russell Crowe does something particularly brilliant throughout A Beautiful Mind. He creates empathy for his character in the first hour by allowing the audience to see how he views the world without us knowing which is real and which is enhanced by his disease, just like him. One minute he’s the reluctant socializer in the real world and in the next, he’s an extremely confident mathematician who obsessively hems and haws until he perfects his theories. I particularly liked the quiet way he talks and how every movement, every gesture is a study in good characterization. He shouldn’t have lost the Oscar to Denzel Washington when this performance was far more challenging.

Forget about the “truth police” and the bogus controversy. A Beautiful Mind is brilliant.

Dennis Earl
Hamilton, Ontario, Canada
Monday, February 20, 2006
1:21 a.m.
Published in: on February 20, 2006 at 1:24 am  Leave a Comment  

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