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A Beautiful Mind (2001) – Movie Review

A Beautiful Mind movie poster

Written by: Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar
Directed by: Ron Howard
Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg

My Advice: Wait for Cable.

John Nash (Crowe) is a guy with ambition. Where his classmates, in his opinion at least, seem to keep coasting along and not making any breakthroughs in their respective fields–he wants to do something innovative in his chosen profession of mathematics. Trouble is, he’s not the most orthodox of mathematicians–or students. With only his roomate (Bettany) at Princeton to keep him relatively sane, he has to find that new idea–but with genius comes a terrible, terrible price.

This is a very puzzling movie, for it seems to fail to engage on any level–and I’ve been trying for a day or so now to figure out exactly where the blame lies. It certainly doesn’t fall on Crowe, who is doing such a bang-up job that at no point did I think, “Hey, it’s that guy from Gladiator!” He is one of my favorite chameleons out there, so no, we don’t want to smack him.

[ad#longpost]Each scene feels oddly clinical, as though we’re meant to see Nash’s life from a distance. Add to that the other feeling that the scenes are never long enough to get completely pulled into, and there you have some inkling of the problem. There’s nothing emotionally to grasp onto here, and apart from one revelation about a small girl (trust me, it makes sense in context), there’s nothing much of interest going on. Rooms filled with newspaper clippings are supposed to be shocking, I guess. A desk being thrown out a window is supposed to be invigorating…or something. I guess. But nothing clicks. And Crowe’s performance gets lost in the vague morass that is the film.

Not helping are Connelly and Harris, although I think through no fault of their own. Connelly’s much vaunted performance consists of playing the suffering wife, having a single badly staged Oscar Moment (TM) and then becoming a non-entity for most of the second half of the film. Harris, although he is Ed Harris and a god, plays a part anybody could have tackled and surprisingly, brings some intensity to the part, but that’s about it.

Ultimately, I think the blame falls on Howard since he’s the guy behind the wheel of this mess, but Goldsman‘s hands are not clean. I know that a lot of people liken this movie to Shine (prodigy on the fast track to greatness then crippled by mental illness but overcomes it and gets back to greatness), but with the former film you had a background from which to understand the character. Here we meet Nash as he’s entering Princeton. Why is he so driven? Where does he come from? A few throwaway lines of exposition cannot replace the setup of a character’s motivation. There’s nothing to make us feel for the character except Crowe working his arse off, and there’s no emotional toeholds in the film. As a result, when Nash gets to the end and makes his Nobel Prize acceptance speech (it ain’t spoilers if it’s documented somewhat-history, folks), it feels tacked on, dishonest, and cheeseball.

A very disappointed outing from Howard, I really don’t know who I would recommend this film to. It’s worth seeing for Crowe’s performance, I guess, but for pity’s sake don’t pay anything for it.