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"A BEAUTIFUL MIND"
(2001) (Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connolly) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A brilliant but self-absorbed mathematician and his beautiful wife try to figure out if he's delusional or really is working on a dangerous, top-secret government case.
PLOT:
It's 1947 and John Nash (RUSSELL CROWE) is a brilliant mathematician who's won a scholarship to attend Princeton and study under Professor Helinger (JUDD HIRSCH). While his fellow classmates, Richard Sol (ADAM GOLDBERG), Bender (ANTHONY RAPP) and Martin Hansen (JOSH LUCAS) don't deny his intelligence, they do find him and his obsessive quest to think differently as peculiar. Charles Herman (PAUL BETTANY), his charismatic roommate, however, gets along fine with him as he tries to get John to have some fun.

John eventually comes up with a revolutionary economic theory that lands him a job at the MIT campus of Wheeler Defense Labs where he, Sol and Bender work as contractors for the U.S. Government. One such job occurs in 1953 at the Pentagon where John is asked to break some Soviet codes. Seeing how good he is at that, covert agent William Parcher (ED HARRIS) of the Department of Defense puts John on a top-secret case to find hidden Soviet code regarding smuggled nuclear arms.

Told by Parcher to lead his normal life while carrying out his mission, John learns that part of his duties at Wheeler involve teaching. It's while doing just that that he meets Alicia Larde (JENNIFER CONNELLY), an opinionated and beautiful physics student. It's not long before the two become an item, much to the surprise of Charles who occasionally visits with his young niece, Marcee (VIVIEN CARDONE).

Yet, as time passes and John becomes increasingly paranoid due to his covert activities becoming more precarious, Alicia calls in Dr. Rosen (CHRISTOPHER PLUMMER) to assess his mental stability. From that point on, John and the others try to figure out if he's truly doing what he says or simply has been leading a delusional life.

OUR TAKE: 8 out of 10
Back when I was an undergrad at the College of William and Mary, the number of absolutely brilliant students who attended the school amazed me. One of the more intriguing bits about some of them was that their level of intelligence seemed to have numbed or overridden other cognitive elements of their life.

The results of that left some of them with little or no personality and/or common sense, or caused them to exhibit peculiar traits. One such fellow reportedly enjoyed setting his alarm clock to go off at various times in the middle of the night, simply because he enjoyed the feeling of falling asleep and wanted to do so more than once per night.

While no one will ever know what went on inside his head regarding such matters, or that which takes place in those of many other super intelligent people, one can get somewhat of a glimpse inside the noggin of one such man in "A Beautiful Mind."

Based on Sylvia Nasar's novel of the same name and coming off as something of a cross between "Good Will Hunting" and "Conspiracy Theory," the film is one of the best of 2001 and should be highly recognized come the end of the year awards time.

As directed by Ron Howard ("Dr. Seuss' How the Grinch Stole Christmas," "Apollo 13") and penned by writer Akiva Goldsman ("Practical Magic," "The Client"), the film initially seems like one of those pictures that might be over most viewers' heads regarding its subject matter of high end math and related theories. Yet, like any good storytellers and as occurred with "GWH," the filmmakers give us an all access pass into this world of higher thinking and the visit here is both compelling and emotionally rewarding.

Rather than presenting the story of John Nash - the real life mathematician who won the Nobel Prize in 1994 after battling schizophrenia for decades - as a standard biopic, the film is a semi-fictional account of certain segments of his life, starting with his early days at Princeton. The fun part of the film, and what makes it so good, is that it not only introduces us to a fascinating character and his incredible story, but also takes us on a journey that isn't predictable, cloying and/or manipulative.

Just when you think you have the film figured out and know what it's about and where it's headed, Howard and company throw in a sudden sharp turn that takes the story off in another direction. Although the first such detour might disappoint viewers initially - just like in "K-PAX" since something that seems extraordinary turns out to be something easily explained -- the film quickly recovers and throws in some additional, effective twists to keep things interesting and the viewer off balance.

Of course, what's really crucial for a film like this - and what makes it really excel - are the performances, and this film is teeming with some terrific ones. Most notable is Russell Crowe who should garner what could be his third Oscar nomination in a row after 1999's "The Insider" and his win for 2000's "Gladiator." Proving he's arguably the best actor working today, Crowe creates a character unlike any he's played before - thus further widening his range - and does so more than credibly.

Portraying a brilliant person "stuck" in his own head isn't easy, especially when a bout of schizophrenia is thrown in. Yet, Crowe does so with such a natural and clearly not forced performance that he makes John Nash both fascinating and able to arouse our sympathy for him.

As his student turned lover and eventual wife, Jennifer Connelly ("Requiem For a Dream," "Waking the Dead") also delivers a terrific performance that may just be good enough to earn her a nomination as well. Ably playing a strong woman whose love shines through even the most desperate and devastating times and events, Connelly is great in the role.

As far as the supporting performances go, Ed Harris ("Pollock," "Enemy at the Gate") is as good as usual, Paul Bettany ("A Knight's Tale," "The Land Girls") is fun as John's charismatic roommate, and newcomer Vivien Cardone is impressive in her debut.

Adam Goldberg ("Saving Private Ryan," "EdTV"), Anthony Rapp ("Road Trip," "Twister") and Josh Lucas ("American Psycho," "You Can Count On Me") are all good as the protagonist's classmates, and Christopher Plummer ("The Insider," "The Sound of Music") is effectively mysterious as a mental practitioner who may or may not be there to help Nash.

Featuring a compelling tale with some terrific and touching individual moments, just the right directorial touch, and what's arguably the best performance of the year, the film is one of the few of the second half of 2001 to work for me from start to finish and completely carry me away in its story. Accordingly, "A Beautiful Mind" rates as an 8 out of 10.




Reviewed November 29, 2001 / Posted December 21, 2001


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