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A Beautiful Mind

movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: A Beautiful Mind

Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly
Director: Ron Howard
Rated: PG-13
RunTime: 129 Minutes
Release Date: January 2002
Genre: Drama

*Also starring: Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch, Paul Bettany, Ed Harris, Christopher Plummer

Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
3½ stars out of 4

"A Beautiful Mind" is the best film of the year and Russell Crowe gives the best performance of the year. Don't taint the experience by reading any more of this or any review until after you've seen the movie. Just go to the theater right now.


What, you're still here? Fine, then we'll do things the traditional way. John Forbes Nash Jr. is a mathematical genius whose life was derailed for several decades by mental illness. "A Beautiful Mind," director Ron Howard's collaboration with screenwriter Akiva Goldsman ("A Time to Kill"), tells his story, sort of. Like many people that were taken with the film, I sought out the book on which it is based, only to discover a number of surprising omissions. Now, it would be easy to accuse Howard and Goldsman of leaving out some of the more unseemly aspects of Nash's personality in a quest to craft the kind of "important" film that wins Oscars. Easy and probably true.

But it doesn't matter, because the core story rises above cliché, and Russell Crowe gives a performance so physically and verbally cohesive that it truly seems as if he has become another soul entirely.

The story begins in 1947, with Nash as student at Princeton. He is brilliant, but his people skills are wretched. Determined to make a mathematical breakthrough, he works doggedly until meeting his goal. "The game would be solved when every player independently chose his best response to the other players' best strategies," he writes, changing the world of economics forever. While teaching at M.I.T. and working for the government, Nash meets Alicia (Jennifer Connelly, doing wonders with an underwritten role), who eventually becomes his wife. There is no happily ever after for the couple, as it is learned that Nash has an advanced case of schizophrenia.

Nash, now 73, was in his early '30s when the disease hit. Ron Howard and company come up with a simple, but ingenious method of letting viewers see the world from Nash's point of view as the man drifts deeper and deeper away. Despite the intense demands and lack of rewards, Alicia refuses to desert her husband. Hopping through the decades a bit haphazardly, Howard carries us through Nash's life into the '90s, when something extraordinary happens.

Howard and Goldsman left a few things out. From Sylvia Nasar's unauthorized biography, I learned a number of facts that didn't make it into the film. For instance, while Alicia, an immigrant from El Salvadore, indeed tended to the broken man for decades, she divorced him in 1963. The life-partners remarried this year. Prior to meeting her, he fathered a son, and left both mother and child to live in poverty. The boy, named after his dad, grew to become a mathematician. He also suffered from schizophrenia, and, like his father, found much of his life divided between institutionalization and wandering the country.

Nash was bisexual and became known for the highly aggressive manner in which he pursued men he fancied. He lost a position at the RAND Corporation after being arrested for soliciting sex in a men's room in Santa Monica.

He was also known as a snob, a racist and the man behind many cruel practical jokes.

Wait, there's more. John Nash believed that extraterrestrials were sending him secret coded messages in the New York Times. His delusions took a religious bent at one point as he headed for Europe, believing he had been selected to be the Prince of Peace.

Only one bit of this information was incorporated into the screenplay, and that bit was altered (very successfully, by the way) to make a more effective story. As for excluding the rest of the facts, perhaps Howard and Goldsman feared it would make the film less commercial. Or perhaps Howard, ever the gentleman, simply felt it would be impolite. Regardless of their reasons, they opted to give us a slightly softer John Nash. Thankfully, the amazing Russell Crowe ends up in charge of the character and, without words, puts the grit back in.

Copyright © 2001 Edward Johnson-Ott

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