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A Beautiful Mind (Ron Howard) 2001   

    Pedantic and sophistic, Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind disappoints most because while it generally plays by the book, it actually manages to show a degree of promise at one point. The film, which pits its hero, John Nash (Russell Crowe), a paranoid schizophrenic math scholar, against the world in and outside his mind, falls into many of the traps that a lot of this sort of film does. Crowe plays Nash as a namby-pamby stuttering loser and effectively squashes most of the intelligence and sexiness that he has demonstrated in the past. The film’s guilty of a stupidly odd insistence that Nash is somehow easier to relate to since he’s some form of loveable Luddite (the film uses its last moment to insist that he still walks to work!), rather than the man of science that he surely must be. The perception of his schizophrenia is offensively quaint as well. It argues that with enough willpower he can eschew medication and suppress his delusions enough to become a functional member of society. Since the film’s based on well-publicized real-life events, and since the movie hardly holds it as a surprise, it’s no great spoiler to reveal that Nash eventually wins the Nobel Prize. The script’s treatment of the honor completely misses the irony of the award though. He receives the prize for a theorem that he had created before he was diagnosed with his affliction and before he began his battle against his illness, so any supposed triumph that we’re supposed to perceive is rendered moot.   

    What works exceptionally in the film is Jennifer Connelly's performance. As Alicia, Nash’s student, girlfriend, and eventual wife, she grounds about forty-five minutes of the film with what it needs most: a sympathetic character. As the depths of Nash’s illness are revealed to the audience, she steps up to the forefront of the film, giving us at last a character that we can latch on to. Although many of the scenes in this part of the film have an overly melodramatic tone to them, at least they manage to be somewhat exciting, and thanks to Connelly, somewhat emotionally involving. She’s got the only workable character in a film that manages to waste a bevy of great actors (including Crowe, Ed Harris, and Christopher Plummer). Howard’s direction never manages to get close to the film’s protagonist, so it’s mainly to blame. When Nash is supposedly thinking his great thoughts, the soundtrack becomes a chorus of awed voices. While he’s cracking secret codes, the camera careens around him. Instead of taking us inside the man’s mind and risking a bit of audience alienation, the film is simply trying to observe him from an outsider’s perspective, pandering to those of us that don’t necessarily see intelligence as something foreign. 



Jeremy Heilman