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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 Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

If someone told me that a major studio, make that two major studios, would release a film this year about a mathematician, I'd have said that was as likely as having Congress authorize a picture of Walt Whitman on our one-dollar bill. Not only is "A Beautiful Mind" a sincere story, wonderfully realized, but it gives Russell Crowe the chance to show what he's made of when he's dressed in a suit and tie and not decked out in a Roman gladiator outfit fighting leonine beasts and Germanic tribes. Sure: in dealing with mathematics "A Beautiful Mind" does not take the chances that Darron Aronofsky took three years ago with "Pi," about a math genius who thinks that the orderliness of numbers may be able to conquer the stock market or determine God's identity. And sure: the film does not choose a staid academic for a talking-heads bio-pic. Elements of melodrama are included, even the obligatory car crash, nor does romance sit in the back seat of the classroom. But in making Akiva Goldsman's script, inspired by Sylvia Nasar's biography of the same name cinematic, Ron Howard has made one of the most astonishing films about mental illness since Anatole Litvak's "The Snake Pit." What's more Jennifer Connelly looks a lot better to these contemporary eyes than Olivia de Havilland.

John Forbes Nash, Jr., who went to Princeton University during the late 1940's on a Carnegie scholarship and copped the Nobel Prize seven years ago, did not have an easy life. Afflicted with schizophrenia which made its presence felt in college but was undiagnosed in part because of his actual involvement in a national security code-breaking operation, Dr. Nash might have originated even more breakthroughs in his field than he otherwise attained had he been of sound mind. Considering that he overcame his incurable affliction and received the most prestigious award an academic could secure in spite of his long-term emotional problem, we could agree that his was indeed a beautiful mind. Interpreted in an Oscar-caliber performance by Russell Crowe, the story is always credible, its melodramatic flourishes never over the top or gratuitous, its romantic interludes unaffected. What's more about one-third of the way into the film, which enjoys a few brief and imaginative photographic tricks, lies a twist involving his Princeton roommate, Charles (Paul Bettany) that could knock your socks off.

Director Howard takes us first to Nash's opening week at Princeton, where in one party scene on the campus he stands awkward and aloof from his fellows but soon joins a group only to offend them with his seeming arrogance and blunt criticism. Even then there are hints, particularly by his duck-like gait, that his difficulty lies deeper than his diffident demeanor. He is the first to admit that he doesn't like people and that people do not much like him: he is more comfortable with numbers, and therefore his landing a job with a top defense lab suits him just fine. Trouble ensues when he is recruited by an undercover operative, Parcher (Ed Harris). When he meets the woman who is to become his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), his reluctance to reveal top secret information to her is coupled with behavior peculiar even for a guy who must be particularly cautious with those closest to him. While lecturing a class one day, he abruptly bounds from the room in mid-sentence and is taken to a psychiatric hospital for treatment by Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer)--who may be a Russian agent determined to learn the secret of his code breaking.

Despite the temptation of Ron Howard to train Roger Deakins's camera on the alluring Jennifer Connelly--already familiar with stories about mental illness from her role as a drug addict in Darren Aronofsky's compelling "Requiem for a Dream"--Russell Crowe is rarely off screen, and how lucky we are. Flamboyant as a rebellious soldier in Ridley Scott's "Gladiator," he is by contrast recoiled here as when tempted by his lovely and increasingly frustrated wife. And who's to say that playing a courageous man of action is any more difficult than enacting the role of a man beset by inner torment?

Given the perfect balance of academia, romance and melodrama, this movie is not only one of the entertainment gems of the year but should be used to motivate the teaching of mathematics. "What use is algebra?" fills the halls of many a secondary school throughout the land. In the role of Dr. Nash, Russell Crowe shows that mathematics theory can be used to push the envelope in economics and even in biology. While math as an abstract subject can be a valuable discipline for training the mind, its concrete applications to our day-to-day life are manifold, if generally unnoticed by most of us who are affected by it every day. "A Beautiful Mind" is a beautiful picture indeed.

Copyright 2001 Harvey Karten

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