A Beautiful Mind Review
Russell Crowe has, along with Kevin Spacey, had the most meteoric career ascension in recent memory. A few years after playing supporting parts in such films as Virtuosity (in which he steals the show from a dour Denzel Washington) and the criminally underrated The Quick and the Dead, he was soon being nominated for Oscars for The Insider and Gladiator, winning for the latter. With a second trip to the Oscar podium looking likely for this one, as well as possible glory for Ron Howard, Jennifer Connelly and others, it's worth noting that this is formulaic Hollywood biopic-making at its most mechanical, albeit with some very intelligent touches that elevate it from the mediocre.
The plot, as loosely based on reality, concerns the brilliant but schizophrenic mathematician John Forbes Nash (Crowe). Opening with his youthful career at Princeton, we are introduced to him, his roommate and best friend Charles (Bettany), and his colleagues. Although obviously a genius, his brilliance goes largely unnoticed until he manages, via an amusing scene with some girls in a bar, to stumble upon a mathematical theory that disproves most of Adam Smith's work, and which catapults him to fame, and into the arms of his future wife Alicia (Connelly). However, the CIA, as led by the shadowy Agent Parcher (Harris) are also interested in Nash's decryption skills, even if there is more to them than meets the eye...
It's actually quite hard to discuss the film without giving away a surprisingly audacious twist halfway through; most reviewers seem to have ignored Howard's request that they don't do so, which is a shame, as it really is unusually innovative for a film of this type, and far more sophisticated than you would expect from a script by Akiva Goldsman, writer of such dross as Batman and Robin and Lost in Space. Howard's direction is also slightly more sophisticated than usual, building on his more interesting work in Ransom, and aided by Roger Deakins' excellent cinematography, which gives a good sense of American academia. It's just a shame that, ultimately, the film conforms squarely to biopic cliches all the way, with the would-be uplifting finale, in which Nash wins the Nobel Prize, feeling rather anti-climatic after all that has gone before. It's also a shame that after the big twist, the film still has around an hour to go, and is unable to really progress in narrative terms from that point, instead going through all the usual motions of cinematic madness, as familiar from such works as One Flew over the Cuckoo's Nest, Shine and other Oscar-winning classics.
The performances are all good, even if Crowe's does have a large sign on it saying 'Oscar performance here! Vote for me!' Unlike his subtle and powerful work in Gladiator the year before, he is frequently guilty of using the standard repertoire of twitches, funny walks, grimaces and other means of Hollywood shorthand to convey extreme eccentricity. However, he is too good an actor not to portray Nash's humanity- at least in this sanitised version, with his bisexuality and divorce excised from the story- and there are moments early on when his performance has a quiet power that hasn't really been seen much in recent cinema. Connelly is a worthy recipient of the best supporting actress award that she will undoubtedly win, (no quips about best supported actress, please) and it's interesting to compare her performance to Jim Broadbent's similar character in Iris. Bettany, building on his superb work in A Knight's Tale, is good, as is Harris, adding yet another shifty authority figure to his portfolio.
Ultimately, this is a well-made, occasionally intelligent film that is not without its flaws, but is an enjoyable piece of work all the same. However, it would be a travesty if it was to win best film at the Oscars, as it simply isn't as strong a piece as the other four films nominated, being little more than a conventional piece of Hollywood product when compared to the visionary genius of Moulin Rouge or the epic sweep of Lord of the Rings. However, it's still well worth watching, if only to marvel at the old age make up that somehow manages not to make Crowe and Connelly look like themselves under layers of foundation.