Originally Reviewed – 9/2/2010
When the phrase “Oscar nominated actor” comes up, Russell Crowe isn’t the first name that springs to mind. But in a three year span from 1999 to 2001, the New Zealand born actor was the most decorated performer in Hollywood. The Insider gave him his first Oscar nomination for Best Actor, the new millennium saw him win the award for his starring role in Gladiator and one year later, he completed the nomination trifecta with his brilliant portrayal of mathematician John Nash in Ron Howard’s A Beautiful Mind. While many critics derided the film for its lack of historical accuracy, the fine acting, excellent script and heart-wrenching story makes it a success on nearly every level.
The film centers around the sorta-true life story of mathematician John Nash. The script follows Nash as he progresses from an eccentric Princeton graduate student searching for an original idea to his work with the government cracking codes. He’s got a girl, a gig and limitless potential. All seems well in the life of the genius until the world he believes to be true comes crashing down around him. If I seem hesitant to do a plot synopsis, there’s good reason for that. Much of the film’s tension lies in a mid movie reveal that turns the entire story on its head. Suffice to say, this is a film that must be watched twice if only to capture the little hints and nods to the second act twist. Much of the film’s success lies in its ability to surprise, a rarity in the usual staid biopic genre.
But the movie isn’t all shocking reveals and plot twists. The core of the experience lies in the very realistic love story between Nash and his wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). Taking home a well deserved Best Actress Oscar for the role, Connelly is brilliant as the romantic interest. Rather than hot passion, Connelly’s character serves as Nash’s support system through the tough times in his life. The film is a bit of a brain bender and the choice to soften the experience with a genuine love story is a smart and effective one.
Naturally, when doing a film of this nature the toughest task goes to the lead. The line between parody and impersonation is a fine tightrope. Teeter either way and the film falls apart. Russell Crowe avoids this by balancing the mannerisms of the real John Nash with some strong character work, allowing him to absolutely disappear in the role. The Oscar winning makeup certainly helps in creating the illusion but it would just be fancy latex without the great acting by Crowe. The rest of the cast perfectly complements the principals, including fine work by Paul Bettany as Nash’s friend Charles and the always reliable Ed Harris as Department of Defense agent William Parcher.
The main detraction most reviewers found with this movie in the large historical inaccuracies between the real life John Nash and the fictitious character. Remember all that talk about the realistic love story and his Fascism defeating code cracking? Fictitious. Biopics generally pride themselves in presenting their subjects in a realistic light, but A Beautiful Mind takes great liberties with the true story of John Nash. While purists may find these revisions almost offensive, I found the film conveyed the nature of his struggles in a visual and artful way, even if the specifics are largely manufactured. Think of it as sacrificing accuracy for the greater emotional good. If you want to learn about the real John Nash, rent the excellent PBS documentary A Beautiful Madness.
While many of the film’s elements were invented to enhance the drama, the drama itself is excellent and well worth a watch. The movie theater is where I go to get swept away and in that respect, A Beautiful Mind does just that. Combining a fantastic ensemble cast, some amazing effects and more surprises than one would expect from a “standard biopic”, Ron Howard’s portrait of a burdened genius stirs the soul with a powerful yet hopeful message of triumph in the face of adversity. Winner of four Academy awards including Best Picture, A Beautiful Mind may not be 100% accurate in its storytelling but it captures the spirit of an inspirational person better than any biopic could ever hope for.
Score – 90%