Rated PG-13 - Running Time: 2:14 - Released 12/21/01

Ron Howard, the multi-talented, omni-successful actor/director/producer who has turned out such important and impactful films as Willow, Parenthood, and Apollo 13, and such disposable, silly films as Gung Ho and How The Grinch Stole Christmas, has added another thoughtful piece to his impressive résumé with A Beautiful Mind, the true story of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician and paranoid schizophrenic John Nash. Although possessing a few noticeable flaws, Howard's latest is a touching look at the tortured, frightening, and ultimately triumphant story of this haunted genius, emphasizing his astounding ability to rise above the obstacles of his own mind. One of the film's weaker points is its dialogue, written by Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar. Goldsman, whose not-too-terribly impressive credits include Lost In Space and Practical Magic, imbues the script with the kind of ridiculous genius conversation you might have heard spoken by Mr. Peabody on Rocky and Bullwinkle. Moreover, I am conflicted about Russell Crowe's performance of the disturbed main character, especially early in the film. Essaying Nash like a derivation of Hoffman's "rain man" with a sillier walk, Crowe seems to be presenting more of a caricature than a real, flesh-and-blood person, and making a conspicuous effort not to look like a heartthrob. His characterization seems to mature with time, though, as does Goldsman's text, but the first half hour is offputting on both counts.

Beginning in 1947, the film follows Nash's induction into the hallowed halls of Princeton University, where he meets his fellow math geeks and begins enduring their good-natured ridicule and intellectual competition. He also meets his new roommate, literature student Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), who becomes an ever present friend and tormentor, distracting him from his work while offering honest lessons in social interaction. Feeling pressure to make an important discovery in mathematics and become a published theoretician like his friends, John eschews classes and toils away in his room, obsessively scribbling complex equations on the windows, his notebook, or wherever there is free space.

After several years have passed, John wins a university professorship at M.I.T. and settles into teaching. Soon, however, he is approached by a serious-looking G-man named William Parcher (Ed Harris). Swearing John to utmost secrecy, Parcher commissions him to help the U.S. government spy on a group of American Communists who have begun to develop their own version of the atom bomb. According to Parcher, John is needed to crack the codes in their communications and thereby help foil their plan to detonate the bomb somewhere in the U.S. At the same time, John meets and falls in love with a young student named Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), whom he marries against Parcher's advice. Alicia loves John for his direct manner and his genius, but is confused by his strange obsession with his top-secret assignment. Then, after John's aberrant behavior leads to sedation and admission to a mental hospital, Alicia learns the truth: there is no assignment. Parcher is a figment of John's imagination, a product of his extraordinary but flawed brain, and, in fact, so is his old roommate Charles. She must confront her increasingly paranoid husband and convince him he is delusional and needs help.

This film is a puzzlement in its inconsistency, especially coming from Ron Howard. While featuring an obvious Oscar-bid performance by Crowe, it sometimes trivializes his character's handicap. While moving through time from post-WWII to the present, it occasionally contains glaring anachronisms, both visual and textual. And while telling the story of a truly amazing and noteworthy human being, it contains dialogue no human being, mentally disabled or not, would ever speak. Still, good performances abound. Harris, who, incidentally, was Crowe's competitor for the Best Actor Oscar last year, maintains his usual intensity, and Connelly is excellent as well, subtly showing how love can rise above emotional conflict. Also present is Christopher Plummer as Nash's psychiatrist. Crowe's performance is one of the inconsistencies; while he is clearly trying to make John Nash someone we can care about, and sometimes truly shines, he occasionally seems to be fighting against conflicting impulses. Ultimately it's director Howard's responsibility to rectify this, and he doesn't do it very satisfactorily. But regardless of its lack of cohesion, A Beautiful Mind is a beautiful story and in some ways a beautiful film, one that deserves to be seen. ****

Copyright 2002 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

Current | Archives | Oscars | About | E-Mail