OBPC #74: A Beautiful Mind, 2001

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A Beautiful Mind (2001): Dir. Ron Howard.  Written by Akiva Goldsman.  Based upon the book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar.  Starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Christopher Plummer, and Ed Harris.  Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence.  Running time: 135 minutes.

bootiful mindThe clear front-runner of 2001 ran a gauntlet of controversy on its way to the top prize, including the movie’s historical inaccuracies with regard to subject John Nash.  But really, the film works better as a parable than a clinical history.

John Nash has earned his way to Princeton University on a scholarship, but he’s not one to rest on his laurels; he forgoes classes in pursuit of his magnum opus.  He eventually establishes the Nash Equilibrium, a radical game-changer in game theory that propels him to academic stardom.  But Nash finds himself in over his head when he begins code-breaking for the Department of Defense, as he is pursued by Russian counter-intelligence (and his own paranoia).

The film begins brilliantly because it explores Nash’s particular kind of genius—one that sees mathematical possibilities in the everyday, but closes off things like socialization and introspection.  It becomes even more fascinating (especially on a second viewing) once Nash publishes his theory and suddenly has no outlet for his genius—suddenly the real world starts to intervene.  Central to the film’s power is Russell Crowe, who strips away all movie star hubris, embodying the beauty and damage of Nash’s psyche.

Unfortunately, the film begins to run out of steam once we discover a key detail in Nash’s life.  From here the story devolves from probing psychodrama to routine feel-good flick; the problems feel real, but the solutions play out in typical Hollywood fashion.  These moments simplify the great set-up of the beginning and reduce it to a matter of “heart over mind.”

Thankfully, the cast is solid enough to take us the rest of the way, with Jennifer Connelly as Nash’s wife grounding the film even in the cheesier moments.  It’s just a shame the film lacked the ambition to carry through on its promise.  It settles for comforting instead of probing.

Next film: Chicago, 2002

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