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You Are Here:  Movie Reviews  >  Beautiful Mind

Dan Heller's Movie Review of "A Beautiful Mind"

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Russell Crowe as John Nash
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Ron Howard's latest film, A Beautiful Mind, is also a beautiful movie. In fact, it's so beautiful, that it seems planned and packaged just for the Oscars, and just in time for Christmas. The film stars last year's Oscar-winning actor, Russell Crowe, as the real-life John Forbes Nash, the mathematical genius who, while a graduate at Princeton University in the 1940s, discovered a principle equation that changed economic theory. But his prodigious career was sidetracked by his struggle with schizophrenia, almost destroying his family and himself. The irony of his predicament was that the drugs that kept his psychosis in check also prevented him from thinking coherently. In order for him to think, he couldn't take his medication, which lead to perpetual delusions. He eventually learned to use his own mind's logic to keep his thoughts in check, even though he still suffered from schizophrenia The movie portrays this struggle, and shows how he learned to live with his illness, while going on to win the Nobel Prize and continuing to teach mathematics at Princeton University.

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Ed Harris as William Parcher
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Howard's treatment of the characters, plot and atmosphere are all done with his usual gifted talent for direction. But here, he employs an interesting story-telling twist: the first half of the film is viewed from Nash's perspective alone, so we're just as confused, surprised and shocked as he is when his psychosis manifests itself, blurring the line between reality and paranoia. Then, the perspective changes to an objective viewpoint, compelling us to feel sympathy as an outside observer. Crowe's portrayal of Nash's gradual deterioration into schizophrenia is believable, and as he devolves both mentally and physically, we are lead through his emotional and psychological struggle. It's Crowe's performance and Howard maturity as a director that will make this film an Oscar contender.

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Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Larde
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Yet, despite its wonderfulness, the film also has its problems. Yes, it's a sweet, good-looking film, but you almost feel pulled into the same old Hollywood formula that worked in the 80s and 90s. We're not seeing anything we haven't seen before, especially from Howard. It also seems to be a fad to make dramas about a genius who is forced to deal with psychological problems, while keeping the audience somewhat unsure about what's real and what's not. This trend started with Good Will Hunting and The Sixth Sense and continues directly into this week's Vanilla Sky. In all these strength of the films are the struggles between the two extremes of the protagonist's mind. Not that A Beautiful Mind is another Good Will Hunting or Finding Forester, but their common element is that they pique our fascination and curiosity about a brilliant mind being in a confused state, using the same psycho-dilemma technique.

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Russell Crowe as John Nash
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The ace-in-the-hole with A Beautiful Mind, however, is that it's based on reality, which has a disproportionately stronger emotional effect than it might otherwise have. By contrast, movies like Good Will Hunting have to be several notches better at character development and personal triumph to have the equivalent emotional impact as their reality-based counterparts. As a strict comparison of movies, the characters in Hunting were far deeper, and the drama more compelling than in A Beautiful Mind, but one can't tell an audience that. True, Nash's actual life may have more interesting because of his being real, but it's the director's job to make us feel it without the
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Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly
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reality check as a crutch. Remember, the film was inspired by events in Nash's life, and is also based in part on the biography of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, so more of this movie really is more fiction than real. With this much artistic license, we shouldn't be so willing to excuse oversimplified and over-dramatized accounts of events, but we do anyway. That was Howard's trump card.

That said, just because the movie wasn't as strong as it could have been doesn't mean I didn't like it. I did - in fact, I think the film is excellent, and well worth attending with family or friends this holiday season. It's a feel-good film that we deserve at this time, and there's nothing wrong with that.

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Ed Harris as Willarm Parcher
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Russell Crowe as John Nash
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