Based on the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., "A Beautiful Mind" tells
the story of an extraordinary man who overcame great obstacles in
his life to become a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. As directed
by Ron Howard (2000's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas"), the film
itself is less noteworthy. A frequently disappointing cut-and-paste
job that unevenly spans 47 years, it fails to find any sort of smooth
rhythm or dramatic arc. Meanwhile, the characters are placed at a
distance from the viewer.
From his beginnings at Princeton University in 1947, the somewhat
eccentric John Nash (Russell Crowe) is an undoubted genius at mathematics
and reason. Just as he has moved on to his career as a half-hearted
professor and marries the beautiful and patient Alicia (Jennifer Connelly),
he is approached by the Pentagon to decode some ominous messages they
have intercepted from Russia. His work attracts a secret agent by
the name of Mr. Parcher (Ed Harris), who embroils him deeper in the
possibly dangerous dictation of secret messages. To Alicia's utter
shock, John is then diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Written by Akiva Goldsman (1998's "Practical Magic") and adapted from
the book by Sylvia Nasar, "A Beautiful Mind" holds certain similarities
with the recent "Vanilla Sky" in its unpredictable narrative, which
hauntingly intermixes reality and fantasy so well that it often diffuses
into one big nightmare. While "Vanilla Sky" is ultimately science-fiction,
"A Beautiful Mind" is very much real in its depiction of a person
suffering from schizophrenia. This arresting approach to the material
is the one aspect that director Ron Howard gets right.
Where the film makes a wrong turn is in the clunky editing and spasmodic
pacing. Slow-going at first, things pick up as the second hour begins
and John's true colors are brought into focus, only to screech to
a halt soon after. Time is also an issue that detracts in the effectiveness
of the story. Quickly moving from the 1947 to 1994, so much is left
out of the development and nuances of the characters that they lack
any palpable depth or sympathy.
If we do not get a firm understanding of who John Nash is and where
he comes from, at least someone of the acting caliber of Russell Crowe
(2000's "Gladiator") was gotten to add depth to the underwritten role
himself. Crowe is a stunning chameleon who takes on every part with
such vigor and dedication that you cannot help but believe in his performances.
As the increasingly distraught Alicia, Jennifer Connelly (2000's "Requiem
for a Dream") is less impressive. A classic beauty who usually shines
in her films, Connelly's turn seems peculiarly "off" here. In all
fairness, it isn't completely her fault, as the crucial role of Alicia
never is given a chance to move beyond the necessities of the plot.
Finally, Ed Harris (2000's "Pollock"), as the obscure Parcher, is
merely workmanlike, and as the film presses on and more is learned
about the circumstances of his character, the more one realizes how
utterly trivial he is in relation to everything else.
Is "A Beautiful Mind" a biographical account of John Forbes Nash Jr.,
a melodrama, or a thriller? The film's identity crisis shields it
from ever culminating into a complete whole, despite obvious aspirations
on Howard's part to deliver an important, crowd-pleasing movie for
adult audiences. At a lengthy 135 minutes, "A Beautiful Mind" still
resembles a cliffs notes version of a person's life. John Nash is
an amazing human being who has an awe-inspiring life story to tell,
but this "Disease-of-the-Week" treatment is, unfortunately, not that story.
Copyright © 2001 Dustin Putman