INTERACTIVE (Rate the Review)
Cinema Signal: Not quite a green light but has elements of strong appeal for a limited audience.

The book that inspired the movie

. "A Beautiful Mind"

The problem here, as it so often is with film biographies, is drama. While the performances are accomplished enough to keep you in your seat, and the subject intellectually fascinating, the risks to the mind of a mathematical genius by schizophrenia are not exactly gut-grabbing. What emotional involvement there is with the mental plight of a mathematician is more a function of pity than of indentification and the length of the piece, like an overlong lecture, strains the attention.

Fortunately, just when the going gets toughest, one of the secret gems in the world of actresses makes an appearance and the labor is put on greased skids. Jennifer Connelly is as profound an attention getter as there is.

Not that there's much to pick at with Russell Crowe's mannered representation of the theoretical Nobel Laureate, John Forbes Nash Jr. You accept his drawling, clipped way of speaking and clumsy movements as the result of study of the man he's portraying, a scholar who we see amidst his college level competitors in 1947 Princeton striving very hard to rise above them into the rarefied atmosphere of original thought.

At this he strives and strives, aided with moral support by unexpected roommate Charles Herman (Paul Bettany) in whom he places great trust. Nash's main problem at Princeton seems to be determining on what subject to turn his mind in order to formulate and advance an original mathematical idea. This is a must for him (we are told in a two hour encapsulization of a life) so that he may rise above his contemporaries, all of whom he pretty much dismisses as inferior.

His quirkiness is demonstrated in the pent up energy he expresses by writing equations on library windows (extremely impractical even for a mad genius -- but colorful, very colorful). His absorption in his formulae doesn't immediately bear fruit but when all seems lost because of his failure to turn in an adequate graduate paper, something occurs that turns all that around. As the movie will have it, he's in a bar with his friends when a blond and four brunet companions enter. This inspires him to pop up with a behavioral theory that predicts conduct in social and political contexts and will be known as the Nash Equilibrium.

The movie attempts to dramatize his arrival at this theory by misstating it. It proposes that it's in his buddies' best interests to settle for one of the brunets since they all can't score with the blond. This is pretty much the opposite of what Nash's equilibrium postulates but, be that as it may, Dr. Helinger (Judd Hirsch), Nash's faculty advisor, recognizes his Equilibrium theory as the breakthrough he's been striving for, one worthy of his genius, and consequently arranges for his placement at MIT's prestigious Wheeler Defense Lab. Though the movie's explanation of the theory is wrong, Nash, in later years, will receive significant recognition for it.

Once he's established in his office at Wheeler, Nash is invited to a highly classified room where he is confronted with a screen of numbers. As he puts his skillful mind to work on the numbers, and in a moment that could only be suggested by a genius of the Hollywood extraction, Nash begins to see patterns in the numbers (they light up in sequences to indicate his synaptic discharges) and breaks the code! Shades of "Good Will Hunting".

As he's thanklessly escorted from the secret chamber he espies a dark haired man watching him from a screened terrace. This turns out to be William Parcher (Ed Harris), a clandestine operative from the intelligence community who is so impressed by Nash's singular abilities that he recruits him to work under his supervision at cracking wartime codes of the enemy, work that has obvious national security implications.

As a theoretical scientist, Nash is a complete flop as a teacher. Part of his obligations is to conduct classes but his morose, anti-social manner does little to impart information or thought to an eager class of students. But, as destiny and the ink of Hollywood would have it, Alicia, a dark haired beauty of a student, is sufficiently fascinated by him to disregard his reticent prickliness and pursue a relationship. As presented here, it's enough to make you wonder how Nash really met and wooed his wife.

Despite such thoughts, however, we have in Connelly an actress that is more than a match for the dynamic Crowe, whose magnetism survives an attempt at a West Virginia accent and a nearly unbelievable physical awkwardness (like there was no "Gladiator"?). Connelly is class and style, intelligence and savvy as she moves toward the irascible genius unintimidated, energized and comfortable on his wavelength. Whether you believe it's John and Alicia or Crowe and Connelly, this pairing is not without its chemical sizzle.

As Nash's mind deteriorates, however, this poor woman is put through enormous strains of fidelity. It's soon apparent that some of the characters that surround him are the product of schizophrenic visions and arch paranoia. No amount of mathematical genius can dispel extremities of mental illness, though Nash, with the aid of psychiatrist Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer) does his best to combat and control them.

Read how John F. Nash, Jr.
describes his own life:
at the Nobel Museum Site
To aid his efforts, recognition in the form of the Nobel Prize comes his way to infuse him with enough confidence to allow him to endure with his demons. Alicia's faith and faithfulness is rewarded by his achievements and ultimate ability to continue functioning as, an elder statesman on campus, he wins the ultimate recognition by his peers.

This seems like highly sentimentalized over indulgent over dramatization. If the performances weren't as good as they are, one might go screaming into the lobby with the stimulation of such powdery fluff. But, finally, you get the idea that somewhere within this screenplay is the kernel of the real John Nash and a story that, Nobel notwithstanding, is far more prosaic in the telling and important in the reality.

The look of the film as created by cinematographer Roger Deakins ("O Brother, Where Art Thou"), is first-rate, employing a flashing technique for the warm tones of Nash's Princeton days (circa 1940). The softness of this imagery is one of the memorable aspects of the film. Ah, but there's one more...

In a good cast, Jennifer Connelly earns your complete admiration. It's almost impossible to accept that since her heart rendering stylization as Emma Murdoch in "Dark City" (1998) she's done so relatively little work (no films in 1999 -- incredible!). One can only hope that this will be her "Nash Equilibrium" -- her breakthrough role into full stardom. There's a place reserved for her in that constellation.

Estimated cost: $60,000,000. Projected U.S. boxoffice: $170,000,000.

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                                      ~~  Jules Brenner  

The Soundtrack album


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[Ed. note: Thanks go to Liviu for bringing to our attention some problems with this page, which have been corrected. Thanks, too, for his praise of the review.]

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Russell Crowe as Nobel Laureate, John Forbes Nash Jr.
The possessor of that mind.
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