John Nash (Russell Crowe), a promising, young mathematician, enters Princeton in the late 40s, ready to come up with a brilliant, original idea. He is so focused in this quest that he forsakes all of his courses and studies, constantly working out mathematical theories and formulas. He is shocked when his advisor (Judd Hirsch), tells him that based on his current level of work, he is not suitable for placement with any firm upon graduation. This causes Nash to work overtime and he finally comes up with an idea and writes a paper about this. Presenting the paper to his advisor, he is promptly scooped up by the Wheeler Institute at MIT. The institute provides him with a place to work, a staff, and the freedom to study but it does expect him to teach a few classes. In one of these classes, a female student, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) catches his eye. They date and eventually marry. Soon, John is approached by William Parcher (Ed Harris), a member of a very secret government organization. William wants Nash to work for him and break codes. Nash begins this work with his usual zeal. Soon, Alicia realizes that John may be losing his grip on reality.
“A Beautiful Mind”, directed by Ron Howard and written by Akiva Goldsman, from the book by Sylvia Nasar, is a very good, well-done film biography. Unlike the recent “Iris”, Howard works small miracles to paint a picture of a brilliant, but troubled man.
Nash is a brilliant mathematician and a Nobel Prize winner, but there are many Nobel Prize winners. Why make a film about this man? I’ll get to that in a minute, but first we should discuss the math part of his personality. I think most studios would throw any film director out on their but if they presented an idea about making a film about a mathematician, but Howard found perhaps the one man, at the right time, who would interest any studio. He cast Russell Crowe, fresh off of his success in “Gladiator” and his Academy Award, as Nash. Crowe is red-hot at the moment, so his presence virtually guarantees a certain amount of tickets sold. Even if the film were terrible. Thankfully, the film is very good. Both Howard and Crowe do brilliant things to paint a portrait of a mathematician. Crowe works frantically through the math problems, displaying a zest for this type of work that Nash surely has. When confronted with personal relationships, Nash has a lot of trouble communicating and this is illustrated beautifully in a couple of brief interactions with people around him. When working on math problems, Howard uses filmmaking techniques to illustrate the thought processes Nash uses. Many filmmakers would have a tendency to use tons of special effects and bring the problems out of the story, but Howard uses a very skilled approach. For instance, Nash envisions the problem that he will eventually solve using figures at a local pub. Howard barely highlights the figures and moves them around a little, presenting them as Nash must have viewed them. It really is a brilliant method and works beautifully.
Watching the previews for “Mind”, I had a lot of reservations about Crowe’s accent. I couldn’t place where it was from and initially had some trouble accepting it in the beginning of the film. But Crowe does such a great job of making the character his own, that I am willing to overlook the less than perfect Southern accent. Crowe moves as Nash must, a man who is unsure about his surroundings, moving in a slow amble, his arms pulled in to ward off the attackers. I really felt that Crowe, a tall, well-built Australian man was the good-looking but tentative Nash. As Nash ages throughout the film, the make-up used convinces the audience that Crowe has aged as well. It really is an interesting sight to see Crowe convincingly become a senior citizen. As often happens with the Academy Awards, actors are awarded for performances in films that are not worthy, only to have worthy performances overlooked. I think this is going to be the case with Crowe.
The film is really a showcase for two people. Crowe and Howard. Howard does some of his best work in this film. As the story unfolds, things begin to happen in the film which don’t seem all that remarkable, simply a piece of the fabric of Nash’s life, but as the story unfolds, Howard slowly lets us in on the secret, a secret which is backed up by all of the previous information. As Nash begins working for Parcher, during the Cold War, the film takes a bit of a turn into a spy film as spies battle for the information Nash is working on. The characters and the settings become almost animated and strange. But this is a brilliant method of painting what Nash sees and feels. The film is told through Nash’s viewpoint, so any variation or change in the story eventually leads back to Nash and his condition or feelings at the time.
Because the film focuses so much time on Nash, other characters are not as fully developed. Alicia, Nash’s wife, is well played by Jennifer Connelly. Her character gives Nash a lot of emotional support and lives through some very trying times. But other characters, such as Parcher and Nash’s roommate at college are given a lot of screen time, but don’t really develop. Where did Nash’s roommate come from? What is his story? Why is Parcher so gung-ho about fighting the spies? I realize that the answer to my questions are tied into the subject matter of the film, but I still think a little more background on these characters would have made the film even more rich and outstanding.
Small complaints aside, “A Beautiful Mind” is one of the best films I have seen this year. As I left the theater, I walked right into the neighboring Brentano’s and purchased the book the film is based on. Because I wanted to know even more about this amazing person. I don’t think any higher compliment can be paid to a film biography.