Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Paul Bettany and Ed Harris
Ron Howard's Oscar-winning film, "A Beautiful Mind," is, on the surface, an easy film to peg. It is the story of John Nash (Russell Crowe), one of America's most brilliant mathematicians and also a man diagnosed with schizophrenia.
Crowe's performance of Nash, who was awarded the Nobel Prize for his work on game theory, is a multi-layered performance in which Crowe wonderfully captures the brilliance and the tragedy of a man who could almost hypnotically draw individuals into his life while simultaneously living his life aloof, anti-social and unaware of anyone's existence but his own. Crowe's Nash is not an easy man to love, and yet he is impossible to not love. From the 1940's to the present, Nash is a man who is absolutely respected as brilliant and who may have lost it all without the absolute love and devotion of the woman whom he would marry, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). Connelly's Oscar-winning performance is one of silent power...It avoids the histrionic highs and lows of many Oscar winning performances, but instead features Connelly's innate ability to merely look at the screen, smolder and communicate with a look, a glance, a gesture, a word.
When Nash is drawn into Military work, his break into madness becomes a true snowball of absolute psychotic fury. While Howard's direction doesn't fully descend into this fury, neither does it become victimized by it. We are allowed to see the descent, to feel it and to experience it...yet, much like Nash, we never succumb to it.
After 10 years of working inpatient psych, I watched family after family destroyed by schizophrenia. I began, at times, to feel hopeless that we were ever truly helping anyone despite the medications, the therapies, the support, the acceptance, the safety and the nurturing. The truth is that many lives are destroyed by the illness, but Nash is a reminder that there is always hope and it is when we are able to love and to build upon that love with treatment, structure and, yes, a little luck that we are able to find those moments, big and small, of healing.
It is easy, in many ways, to make a film about mental illness. It is easily transformed into the tragic or the comic...it is easy to create power, because the power of mental illness is inherent. Howard's "A Beautiful Mind" works because it is not a film about mental illness, but a film about John Nash, who lives everyday of his life with a diagnosis of schizophrenia.
"A Beautiful Mind" works because Crowe surrenders his macho, male image and literally becomes Nash through his gestures, his tics, his mutterings and delusions. "A Beautiful Mind" works because Connelly offers yet another of her many brilliant performances in creating a woman who is attracted not just to brilliance, but to the man beneath the brilliance. "A Beautiful Mind" works because the supporting players, such as Ed Harris's Parcher, Paul Bettany's Charles and Christopher Plummer's Dr. Rosen find the nuances of their characters and take even the smallest scenes and bring them to life. The Oscar nominated score from James Horner, the production design and the Oscar nominated make-up are all exemplary in setting the appropriate mood and tone for the film.
For all its brilliance, "A Beautiful Mind" never completely escapes the constant fearful shadow of the "disease of the week" syndrome. While the script never fully falls into this trap, it constantly feels as if it may. It is as if Howard remained constantly aware of the potential and would pull the film away from it just as it appeared it may be descending into its own madness. It neared the edge close enough that I, on occasion, found myself distracted by it. I found myself distracted by the stereotypical schizophrenic moments. These are the moments we find in every film about schizophrenia or any other form of mental illness...while some are accurate, some are mere tiresome stereotype. At times, "A Beautiful Mind" falls victim to both.
Minor script issues aside, "A Beautiful Mind" is a wonderful film about a brilliant man. Director Ron Howard and scriptwriter Akiva Goldman have worked together to craft one of history's best films dealing with the subject of mental illness, and while I may not be convinced it warranted its "Best Picture" win at the Oscars it, nevertheless, remains a beautiful film and a must-see for fans of truly great American dramas based upon the life of one of America's truly great, occasionally tragic, but ultimately triumphant figures.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic