Beautiful Mind, A (2001)
Release Date: December 21st, 2001 MPAA Rating: PG-13
Director: Ron Howard Actors: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Christopher Plummer, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp, Judd Hirsch
ho among you will be the next Morse? The next Einstein?” At Princeton University in 1947, Carnegie Scholarship recipient John Nash (Russell Crowe) tries to make friends with fellow mathematicians, cryptologists, atomic physicists, and other such student geniuses. But while his eye for numbers and symbols is sharp, his people skills leave much to be desired. Quiet, reserved, and inadvertently rude, the West Virginian doesn’t like his peers all that much, and he’s content with his colleagues not caring for him in return.
Outgoing, booze-loving roommate Charles Herman (Paul Bettany) won’t leave him be, however. With the help of some liquor, the two are soon chatting casually, with John revealing that he wishes to do engage in significant actions – to come up with a truly original idea. It’s very important for him to be known and to accomplish something that matters to the world.
Unfortunately, Nash’s inability to socialize with any semblance of normalcy makes him a largely unsympathetic, distant outsider. When he awkwardly flirts with a woman at a bar, the encounter ends with a slap to his face. Sadly, it’s not very funny; it’s merely uncomfortable. And when the various, random algorithms and theories on governing dynamics that he has been pondering appear unfocused and messy – and keep him from class, causing him to end up without placement – it’s yet again difficult to feel any pity for the character. He’s largely unlikable for all the terribly stereotypical ways in which introverted, aloof, brainy personas generally become shunned, especially in the movies.
By 1953, John is now a doctor, sent to the Pentagon to decrypt intercepted ciphers, which he cracks in a matter of minutes. When he’s not called away for national security issues, he’s forced to teach classes at Wheeler Defense Labs at MIT. He has little concern for giving the institute’s students proper instruction, though it is during one of these time-wasting sessions that he first meets the stunning Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). That evening, he also runs into another person of great consequence: William Parcher (Ed Harris) from the Department of Defense. Granting Nash top-secret clearance, Parcher informs him of a Berlin factory where engineers were attempting to build a portable atomic bomb, which was seized by the Soviets before U.S. forces could take control. Under Parcher’s supervision, it’s up to Nash to uncover sleeper agents in the States by using his natural code-breaking skills to scrutinize recurring patterns in periodicals.
Although the film eventually takes a break from the ungraspable interpretations of ciphers (for some old-fashioned romancing), Nash’s unwavering oddness (or, as he calls it, directness) continues to interfere with the entertainment value. If any character in “A Beautiful Mind” seems unreal, however, it’s Alicia, who becomes a perfectly fitting counterpart for Nash, despite her attractiveness dictating that she’d never put up with his frequent failures to prioritize their relationship over just about everything else. Plus, she must regularly redefine her girlish notions about romance for the sake of Nash’s robotic, empirical data collection in all things – such as for her feelings and intentions. “There’s no accounting for taste, is there?” jokes Charles.
As Nash’s classified activities for Parcher put bigger and bigger strains on his psyche, the doctor grows steadily more disagreeable. He’s not heroic or brave or enlightening or compassionate to his friends and family; he’s mostly unstable, paranoid, and irrational. As the film twists and turns into a psychological thriller, artistic qualities arise in the editing, particularly during a car chase in which the music remains slow and calm, even as gunshots ring out and vehicles collide with one another. A few astounding revelations edge their way into the picture at about the halfway point, drastically changing the course – and the meaning – of Nash’s plight, though it’s too late to redeem a chiefly unredeemable character (not only in his disregard for others but also in the supporting characters’ unbelievable carelessness with their generosities). Winding down with overlong, repetitious scenes of mistakes, grief, guilt, forgiveness, and further mistakes, “A Beautiful Mind” does manage to muster some interest in its uncommon resolutions, but its inspirational qualities to read more about the real John Nash (and all the things omitted from this biopic) might be the only lasting effect.
– Mike Massie