A Beautiful Mind is a decent film, but it is also pure Oscar bait and only really involving the first time around. I can’t really complain about anything technically, there are no real standout aspects but everything is done well enough, the performances are good, but the film does that annoying biopic thing where it takes something that was probably really dramatic and interesting and stuffs it into a formula that largely robs it of that.
John Nash (Russell Crowe) is a mathematician just starting grad school at Princeton during the beginning of the Cold War. He feels he needs to come up with something brilliant and “original” in order to stand out from the crowd of other mathematicians. He comes up with his groundbreaking theory and moves onto MIT and does secret work for the government, directed by Parcher (Ed Harris). Eventually his mind cracks under the pressure, and his schizophrenia manifests itself. With the help of his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), he strives to control his illness without medication.
This film is most involving on a first watch, because after it is revealed that he has schizophrenia it’s more surprising to see which aspects of his life are delusions and which ones are real. It’s not as if the film is unwatchable after you know exactly what’s happening, it’s just way more interesting the first time around. The first part almost feels like a thriller, even if a rather routine one. But once you know the secret, the whole thing feels rather biopic-ey.
The strength of this film really lies in Russell Crowe’s performance, backed up by Jennifer Connelly’s. Crowe brings a life a character who starts off as a jerk, motivated by nothing except ambition, but self aware enough to know that he’s a bit off. It’s interesting to note that it takes him a long time to be diagnosed with schizophrenia, simply because mathematicians are percieved as secretive, obsessed, and strange. There are many scenes in which other characters must have seen Nash talking to himself, but didn’t think much of it because they already think he’s weird. However, that’s not all Crowe brings to the table. He manages a transformation in the second half, becoming a rather lovable eccentric. He also manages everything in between: the despair of a man not able to fully use his most powerful assest, his mind, the range between completely certainty of his delusions and his doubt of reality, and the ignorance that he’s causing others pain and the shame when that is gone. Though there was no way the Academy could have known this is 2000, Crowe most certainly should have won his Oscar for this and not Gladiator, in which he is watchable and charismatic but without the depth he shows here.
However, the film that surrounds Crowe’s performance is maddeningly average. The only really standout thing about it is how certain hallucinations are made to seem normal in the first half, mostly accomplished through editing. The film takes our assumptions about how films are normally edited and turns them on us, though this has been done before (an example that comes to my mind first is when the SWAT team is storming the house in The Silence of the Lambs). The film’s other major technique is to highlight letters and numbers to display Nash’s thought patterns, which conveys the power of his mind.
A Beautiful Mind is a good enough movie, but I can’t help but being bored by it. Obviously, the Academy didn’t feel the same way, awarding it 4 out of the 8 awards is was nominated for: best picture, supporting actress for Connelly, best director for Ron Howard, and best adapted screenplay. It lost out on best actor for Crowe, editing, best makeup, and best original score. It’s too out there for the Academy, but Mulholland Drive is my alternative for 2001 (Lynch was nominated for director, but it was not nominated for picture and neither was Watts for actress). I may be going a bit hard on this movie, but it’s just so maddeningly average.
“Like a diet of the mind, I just choose not to indulge certain appetites; like my appetite for patterns; perhaps my appetite to imagine and to dream.”
Long story short: 3/4 stars