A Beautiful Mind takes its inspiration from the story &#Array; if not the literal facts &#Array; of John Forbes Nash, Jr., a brilliant Princeton-educated mathematician whose theories were so groundbreaking that they eventually led to him being awarded the Nobel Prize. He was also a profoundly troubled man, struggling with high-pressure government work as a code-breaker and mental problems. In other words, if one wanted to be cynical, this is the kind of movie that just begs for multiple Oscar-nominations: A true story, grim but ultimately hopeful, great performances… bring on the gold statuettes, please.
It’s a pleasure, then, to report that A Beautiful Mind is actually a very good movie. And if it was made on some level as Oscar bait, that’s okay too. This is a good story, well told, that never panders to the audience (it’s often pretty grim) but still manages to satisfy.
A lot of that satisfaction comes from Russell Crowe’s performance as Nash. It’s been a big year for Crowe, and his star seems to have fully ascended, if not actually peaked, but newspaper blurb hyperbole aside, this is amazing work. Imagine an even more twitchy, unpleasant version of his role as Jeffrey Wigand in Michael Mann’s The Insider. Crowe-as-Nash is about as far away as he could get from the tough-guy physicality of Bud White in L.A. Confidential and Maximus in Gladiator. It’s a “total immersion” kind of performance, where &#Array; within just a few minutes of the picture’s beginning &#Array; you virtually forget that you’re watching “Russell Crowe, Movie Star.”
A couple of other impressive performances add to the film’s power. As Nash’s long-suffering but supremely dedicated wife, Jennifer Connelly delivers work of such grace and economy that (and I’ve always felt this way about her) it’s unbelievable that she’s not a bigger star. As well, Ed Harris, in his role as the shadowy government agent who isn’t quite what he seems and draws Nash deeper into a paranoid mire, makes the most of a completely thankless part (shades of his performance as Howard Hunt in Oliver Stone’s Nixon).
But, happily, this isn’t a case where good performances are the only thing that carry the day. I’m enough of a fan-boy that the name of screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who penned such non-classics as Batman & Robin and Lost in Space, makes me cringe, but there’s no arguing with the supremely fine work he’s done here. The script juggles so many balls &#Array; so many plot elements and characters and even levels of perception &#Array; that one false move could have completely destroyed the whole thing. But Goldsman pulls it off beautifully, and doesn’t shy away from the more off-putting elements of the story. It’s very nice work &#Array; let’s just hope this encourages him to stay away from Batman for the foreseeable future.