A Beautiful Mind Review
Based loosely on a true story, A Beautiful Mind tells of a brilliant young mathematician named John Nash (Russell Crowe) who lived a life of genius tainted by mental breakdown. Married to his ever-faithful sweetheart Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) Nash lived a secret life as a Government agent, deciphering codes for the mysterious William Parcher (Ed Harris) in order to help the United States win the Cold War. A Beautiful Mind beat Fellowship Of The Ring, Gosford Park, Moulin Rouge! and In The Bedroom to the Best Picture Oscar, despite being the weakest of the five films.
Now that the Oscars are nothing more than a bitchy political feud between Miramax and Dreamworks, we are starting to see some films championed as the 'best' despite these films ultimately doing little for Hollywood's dubious reputation. It's amazing that a film lacking in any sort of edge or power has been so dogged in controversy. Yes, A Beautiful Mind is based on a true story, but it changes events in its protagonist's life no more than the next real-life adaptation, and doesn't deserve the bitter jibes. Anyone who believes that cinema or even documentaries can remotely resemble realism fails to observe the notion that a creative autocrat overviews each product.
As a film, A Beautiful Mind fails miserably despite harnessing a decent amount of entertainment in its first half. Whilst there are certainly many things that are indeed right with the film, there are far more elements wrong with it. It's probably wise to start with the casting of the film's lead character. Forget the Oscar nomination or the stubborn fanbase, Russell Crowe is terribly miscast as John Nash, and conjures up a performance in which the worst elements of Rain Man and Forrest Gump are combined. Crowe mumbles, stumbles ans over-acts through this bloated and calculated film, and he'd be advised to stick to playing himself, a grunting thug, like he did so well in L.A. Confidential. Secondly, yes Jennifer Connelly proves she can act and look dazzling on many occasions (particularly noticeable in Requiem For A Dream) but is her performance as Nash's devoted wife genuinely worthy of an Oscar? More suitable choices for applause would have been the always-dependable Ed Harris as the 'sinister' William Parcher or the promising Paul Bettany as Nash's friend and self-appointed conscience Charles.
Ron Howard is clearly annoyed at having never been nominated by the Oscars academy, and so he packs the film with text-book direction, never shocking the audience with any sort of off-field visual tricks. There's even a surprising number of CGI effects wizardry to aid Howard's directorial style, and it's tired-looking rather than effective. Although Howard finally won an Oscar for his efforts, A Beautiful Mind probably shouldn't even rank as one of his better films. Just as Howard stays along the line of convention, so does the rest of the film's contributors. James Horner switches to autopilot for his musical score, and brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins gives the film an overdone golden tint, as if holding A Beautiful Mind in some hollowed reverence.
What's astonishing is that the film earned screenwriter Akiva Goldsman an Oscar, a man guilty not only of streamlining the events of the real John Nash but also guilty of writing the screenplays to cinema disasters Batman & Robin and Lost In Space.
It's a shame, as the film would have worked perfectly well as a paranoia thriller, but unfortunately this premise shoots its load by the halfway mark, and so the remainder of A Beautiful Mind becomes cliché-ridden stock pap. Many have praised the film's handling of John Nash's mental problems, and yet people seem to ignore the fact that the last hour is nothing more than epilogue after epilogue highlighting Nash's triumph over adversity. Dreamworks would have been better off completely fictionalising the plot and losing the 'true story' tag, as at least this way would have ensured a film that was at least cohesive from beginning to end. The ultimate problem with A Beautiful Mind is that it is an inner battle between gritty drama and Hollywood melodrama, and unfortunately the melodrama wins out by the conclusion.
Still, the film has a legion of admirers, and it certainly is enjoyable for the most part. If A Beautiful Mind had the courage to turn to darker, more sinister corners it could easily have reached a masterful level, sacrificing any hope of an Oscar in the process. When considering this, you can't blame Dreamworks, Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman for crafting out a multi-million-dollar product, even if the art of cinema has been pushed to the sidelines.
Academy Awards 2001
Best Director - Ron Howard
Best Supporting Actress - Jennifer Connelly
Best Adapted Screenplay - Akiva Goldsman
Academy Award Nominations 2001
Best Actor - Russell Crowe
Best Film Editing - Mike Hill, Daniel P. Hanley
Best Makeup - Greg Cannom, Colleen Callaghan
Best Original Score - James Horner
Presented in anamorphic widescreen 1.85:1, the transfer for A Beautiful Mind is very good, with some fine sharp imagery and a decent palette of colour tones. Only a small amount of artefacts and grain can be detected, and on the whole this is a good presentation of the film.
Presented in a 5.1 mix, the sound events are mostly limited, with only a few instances of surround sound coming into the mix. Dialogue is well presented with a good depth of clarity, but the rears are mostly underused. Still, for dialogue-driven film, the sound mix complements the film acceptably.
Menu: A animated menu consisting of clips from the film and portions of James Horner's score, given a stylish and somewhat over-worthy backdrop.
Packaging: A bland packaging featuring an uninspired cover artwork containing a shot of Russell Crowe, and provided with a golden trim. Contained in an amaray casing, with an extra slot for the second disc attached. A four page booklet with production notes and chapter listings is also included.
Audio Commentary By Ron Howard: Although his ideology in terms of Hollywood convention is not to everyone's tastes, Ron Howard is still an excellent commentator on his own films. He discusses the directorial techniques of the film along with providing many behind-the-scenes anecdotes, and although he is the sole contributor to the commentary it's rarely a dull track to listen to. Listening to the commentary, one realises that Howard is forcefully committed to his own vision, and he at least makes the films his own way.
Audio Commentary By Akiva Goldsman: Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman starts off very humourously by sarcastically commenting on the three different studio logos that appear at the beginning of the film. Goldsman discusses the various development issues of the story for A Beautiful Mind and how scenes were changed, moved around or dropped entirely. He discusses the relationships and dynamic structures of the characters on show, but mostly steers clear from the controversy concerning the artistic licenses used when constructing the character of John Nash.
Deleted Scenes: Twenty-six minutes of deleted scenes are included with optional commentary from Ron Howard. Howard himself provides a decent introduction as to why the scenes were deleted, which in most cases he claims were not because the scenes were lacking but more because of timing issues. The most interesting sequence deleted in the final one, in which the end segment of the film has been altered slightly. The scenes are presented in non-anamorphic widescreen are watchable if mark by print scratches.
Production Notes: Some decent production notes centring on the film's production is presented here as text on screen.
Cast And Filmmakers: Small biographies and filmographies are presented as text on screen of the major cast and crew members.
A Beautiful Partnership: Ron Howard & Brian Grazer: A five minute featurette explaining how Howard and Grazer came to be involved with the production of A Beautiful Mind and what they liked about the background of Nash's life.
Development Of The Screenplay: An eight minute featurette highlighting how the screenplay was developed, how Akiva Goldsman came to be involved with writing the film and the story progressed from original novel to screen. Featuring interviews with Brian Grazer and Akiva Goldsman.
Meeting John Nash: This is an interesting eight minute featurette as it contains the real John Nash explaining some of his famous theories to camera, whilst being filmed by Ron Howard. It's rather poignant, if just to wonder at the marvellous recovery the man has undergone.
Accepting The Nobel Prize In Economics: This is two minutes worth of recorded footage from the 1994 Nobel Prize ceremony in which John Nash was awarded the prize for Economics.
Casting Russell Crowe & Jennifer Connelly: This is a five minute featurette focusing on why Howard and Grazer chose Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly to portray John and Alicia Nash. Features interview with Howard and Grazer, and some behind-the-scenes footage.
The Process Of Age Progression: This is a seven minute featurette illustrating how the characters aged throughout the film through the use of makeup. Featuring interviews with Howard and Grazer, along with makeup artist Greg Cannom.
Storyboard Comparisons: This is the chance to compare three sequences of the film with their storyboard origins, along with two deleted sequences from the film. The screen is split into two portions, so that simultaneous comparisons between the final screen version and the original storyboards can be made. Ron Howard also makes a thirty second introduction.
Creation Of The Special Effects: An interesting ten minute featurette explaining how the surprisingly large number of special visual effects shots were designed and implemented into A Beautiful Mind. The featurette mainly features interview with Special Effects Supervisor Kevin Mack.
Scoring The Film: A six minute featurette concentrating on James Horner's score for the film, featuring interviews with Horner himself, Ron Howard and even Charlotte Church, the young Welsh singer who contributed fine vocal work to the score.
Inside A Beautiful Mind: A twenty-two minute featurette that basically gives an extended and brief overview of the film's production, combining cast and crew interviews with film snippets and behind-the-scenes footage. If you have watched all of the other features included on the disc, this will add little to your knowledge of the background to A Beautiful Mind, however, at least interviews with the real John and Alicia Nash are included.
Academy Awards: A brief collection of post-Oscars-ceremony footage in which the film's Oscar winners discuss what it means to them to win the award.
Theatrical Trailer: The film's original trailer is presented, and it touches mostly on the more thrilling aspects of the film and lasts for two-and-a-half minutes. Shown in non-anamorphic widescreen.
Soundtrack: A thirty second promotional advert to the film's soundtrack by James Horner.
Now Showing: Sneak peaks at four other Universal films Patch Adams, The Family Man, K-Pax and Apollo 13.
Organisations: A list of mental health organisations linked to the film and their contact details.
DVD-ROM Features: The DVD gives the viewer a link to Universal's Total Axess website, which features of variety of short video featurettes centring on the film and a number of still artwork.
An average film that places itself on a higher level than it deserves, A Beautiful Mind is still enjoyable entertainment for the most part, even if it does little in terms of showing you the real John Nash. The DVD however is very good, with extensive and in-depth extras that stray further than promotional material, proving that fans of the film have been rewarded with a good overall package.