Based on the life of John Forbes Nash Jr., "A Beautiful Mind" tells the story of an extraordinary man who overcame great obstacles in his life to become a Nobel Prize-winning mathematician. As directed by Ron Howard (2000's "How the Grinch Stole Christmas
"), the film itself is less noteworthy. A frequently disappointing cut-and-paste job that unevenly spans 47 years, it fails to find any sort of smooth rhythm or dramatic arc. Meanwhile, the characters are placed at a distance from the viewer.
From his beginnings at Princeton University in 1947, the somewhat eccentric John Nash (Russell Crowe) is an undoubted genius at mathematics and reason. Just as he has moved on to his career as a half-hearted professor and marries the beautiful and patient Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), he is approached by the Pentagon to decode some ominous messages they have intercepted from Russia. His work attracts a secret agent by the name of Mr. Parcher (Ed Harris), who embroils him deeper in the possibly dangerous dictation of secret messages. To Alicia's utter shock, John is then diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Written by Akiva Goldsman (1998's "Practical Magic
") and adapted from the book by Sylvia Nasar, "A Beautiful Mind" holds certain similarities with the recent "Vanilla Sky
" in its unpredictable narrative, which hauntingly intermixes reality and fantasy so well that it often diffuses into one big nightmare. While "Vanilla Sky
" is ultimately science-fiction, "A Beautiful Mind" is very much real in its depiction of a person suffering from schizophrenia. This arresting approach to the material is the one aspect that director Ron Howard gets right.
Where the film makes a wrong turn is in the clunky editing and spasmodic pacing. Slow-going at first, things pick up as the second hour begins and John's true colors are brought into focus, only to screech to a halt soon after. Time is also an issue that detracts in the effectiveness of the story. Quickly moving from the 1947 to 1994, so much is left out of the development and nuances of the characters that they lack any palpable depth or sympathy.
If we do not get a firm understanding of who John Nash is and where he comes from, at least someone of the acting caliber of Russell Crowe (2000's "Gladiator
") was gotten to add depth to the underwritten role himself. Crowe is a stunning chameleon who takes on every part with such vigor and dedication that you cannot help but believe in his performances.
As the increasingly distraught Alicia, Jennifer Connelly (2000's "Requiem for a Dream") is less impressive. A classic beauty who usually shines in her films, Connelly's turn seems peculiarly "off" here. In all fairness, it isn't completely her fault, as the crucial role of Alicia never is given a chance to move beyond the necessities of the plot.
Finally, Ed Harris (2000's "Pollock"), as the obscure Parcher, is merely workmanlike, and as the film presses on and more is learned about the circumstances of his character, the more one realizes how utterly trivial he is in relation to everything else.
Is "A Beautiful Mind" a biographical account of John Forbes Nash Jr., a melodrama, or a thriller? The film's identity crisis shields it from ever culminating into a complete whole, despite obvious aspirations on Howard's part to deliver an important, crowd-pleasing movie for adult audiences. At a lengthy 135 minutes, "A Beautiful Mind" still resembles a cliffs notes version of a person's life. John Nash is an amazing human being who has an awe-inspiring life story to tell, but this "Disease-of-the-Week" treatment is, unfortunately, not that story.
©2001 by Dustin Putman