“A Beautiful Mind” tells the real story of John Nash, a Princeton mathematician who actually still teaches there to this day. Nash is played by Russell Crowe, who is quickly distinguishing himself to be an incredibly versatile actor, going from an overweight and not so bright cop (“L.A. Confidential”) to bloodthirsty gladiator (“Gladiator”) and now a math whiz without missing a beat. Even more astonishing, I never doubted him in any of those roles for a second.
Crowe’s Nash is a tick-heavy, fidgeting kid from West Virginia. You could call him a nerd, but he’s not really a nerd. He’s simply in a world all his own. Nash just been given a scholarship to Princeton and is so completely sure of his own genius that he feels going to class with “normal mortals” is a total waste of his time. The arrogant Nash longs to be a distinguished original thinker, to take his place in the annals of mathematical history, and his only real friend in college is Charles, an Englishman who is always there for him.
On his quest to prove his genius to the world, Nash butts heads with would-be friends, would-be enemies, and eventually distinguishes himself with an original theory. I couldn’t tell you what that theory is, although the movie makes mention of it a few times, and the real Nash even wins a Nobel Prize for it. In a movie like “A Beautiful Mind”, the part of Nash’s “mind” that is focused on isn’t his work, but his slowly emerging schizophrenia. In this case, formulas are irrelevant. Before we know it, the movie is no longer about a smart kid in college, but about a smart kid in college with a brilliant mind who has a terrible mental illness that is slowly but surely consuming everything that John Nash is, was, and might be.
Jennifer Connelly (“Dark City”) is Alicia, one of Nash’s students at M.I.T. She is immediately taken with his awkwardness and asks him out. The two start a romance, and before long are married. When Nash’s mental illness surfaces, it is Alicia who is there for him. Connelly plays Alicia as a stoic supporter of Nash through his many trials and tribulations, and she is quite simply marvelous in the role. Even as she tries to hang on with Nash through his paranoid schizophrenia, we can see Alicia starting to crack herself.
Connelly is perfectly cast as the beautiful and sympathetic Alicia, a woman who loves Nash for reasons that we don’t quite understand — and apparently neither does she. She is drawn to him by his ineffectiveness in society, his awkwardness around women, and his inner passion to distinguish himself in the world of science. Despite looking like a man devoid of emotions, Nash is full of passion, and Alicia sees it when no one else does.
“A Beautiful Mind” is set in the ’50s and as such the paranoia of the era is prevalent. The atmosphere of the time and America’s quickly growing fight with the Soviet Union (re: the escalating Cold War) figures into the heart of Nash’s growing schizophrenia. It isn’t long before Nash begins to see government spies, Russian spies, and secret codes everywhere. Ed Harris (“Enemy at the Gates”) appears as Parcher, a Department of Defense agent who recruits Nash to help solve a Russian plot to set off an atomic bomb in the United States. Or is he?
Director Ron Howard shows great restraint with the direction. He allows the movie and the actors to tell the story without inserting his own “style” to take us away from what is onscreen. Howard knows that he has a great cast and never once does something idiotic with the camera that pulls the viewers out of John Nash’s world. The screenplay by Akiva Goldsman, he of “Batman Forever” and “Batman and Robin” infamy, is a pleasant shock. Who knew he could actually write?
Ron Howard (director) / Sylvia Nasar (book), Akiva Goldsman (screenplay)
CAST: Russell Crowe …. John Nash
Ed Harris …. Parcher
Jennifer Connelly …. Alicia Nash
Christopher Plummer …. Dr. Rosen
Paul Bettany …. Charles