A Beautiful MindThursday 28 Feb 2002
Duration: 0 minutes
Directed by Ron Howard, starring Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and Paul Bettany.
After Golden Globe and BAFTA success for his performance as schizophrenic maths genius John Forbes Nash, the consensus is that Russell Crowe should by now have his Oscar speech ready. It seems the safest of bets too: 'One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest', 'Rain Man', 'Shine' - the Academy loves to honour films which tackle (self)-adversity, and Crowe seems set to join the honour role of Jack Nicholson, Dustin Hoffman and Geoffrey Rush for his contribution to the genre. If he does however, he'll be the least deserving of the four, because 'A Beautiful Mind' is neither a great film nor Crowe's best performance to date.
The story begins with Nash arriving at post war Princeton, determined to make a name for himself and come up with "a truly original idea". With chips on both shoulders, two helpings of a brain but only half a heart, his classmates write him off as the campus oddball, an isolation which is heightened when they become published while Nash founders in his dorm. Encouragement however, comes in the form of Charles (Bettany), Nash's English expat roommate who urges him to relax a bit more, analyse a lot less and ultimately stop torturing himself in his quest for brilliance. It works too because Nash soon arrives at his great academic discovery. Cut to five years later and Nash is the dapper, arrogant lecturer contemplating romance with student Alicia (Connelly). But when the secret service, in the form of shadowy agent Parcher (Harris) comes calling, Nash's willingness to do his bit for his country threatens to destroy him.
As straightforward fiction, this is solid feelgood fare, but the fact that it's based on a real person, real success and failure opens it up to far greater scrutiny. And Howard has been found wanting by many with his film criticised for glossing up and painting over many truths from Nash's life and ultimately giving a 'go home, smile and sleep tight' feel to a life which becomes is more traumatic than this film suggests.
The first 45 minutes of the film plod along and it's only when Nash becomes ill, the cold war paranoia kicks in and the well-executed twist is revealed that you'll sit up straight in your seat. You'll slump back down however, as Howard slows things up to show Nash and now wife Alicia struggling with his illness and not even moving the action forward by 22 years and burying the leads under mounds of make-up can hide that the film lacks tempo. Howard may retort that the pacing is justified because his film is a character study but it has too many scenes and too few moments to support that argument.
Through it all, Crowe is never anything less than watchable but put his Nash up alongside Hendo from 'Romper Stomper'', Bud White from 'LA Confidential' or Jeffrey Wigand from 'The Insider' and you'll question whether this film is Crowe at his best. And perhaps what his performance does more than anything is bring into focus just how much he should have won the Oscar for his portrayal of the Wigand, another real-life person who brought himself from the brink. That was a far more complex and absorbing character than his current one is allowed to be.
There is however, an upside: Jennifer Connelly. She too won a Golden Globe and BAFTA for 'A Beautiful Mind' and if she wins the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress you'll watch with the feeling that justice has been done. Denied but deserving of leading lady status for too long, this film gives her the chance to show her talents to a mainstream audience who probably never saw her in the likes of Requiem for a Dream or 'Waking the Dead'. In her portrayal of Alicia she manages to find just the right pitch between sultry and sympathetic and while the script is slanted in Crowe's favour, you'll find yourself watching her reactions far more as the film progresses.
The last 15 minutes are very moving and only a 60-a-day cynic could fail to find some emotional resonance as Nash is awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994. It's a wonderful scene but one which also captures the greatest flaw of 'A Beautiful Mind'. Nash thanks his wife as he takes the podium, but you feel that Howard could have improved his film no end if he had shown the reality of their years together – how they divorced in the Sixties, stayed apart for seven years, lived together since the Seventies and remarried last year.
The truth can be difficult, but it can also make for better cinema.