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With: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Christopher Plummer, Josh Lucas
Written by: Akiva Goldsman, based on the book by Sylvia Nasar
Directed by: Ron Howard
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content and a scene of violence
Running Time: 135
Date: 12/13/2001

A Beautiful Mind (2001)

2 Stars (out of 4)

'Mind' Is a Terrible Thing

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

It's what I call the Rain Man performance. In the past ten or fifteen years, whenever a filmmaker makes a bid for an Oscar nomination by making a film about screw-ups, retarded folks, disabled folks, freaks, psychos, junkies or alcoholics, they cast a name actor and instruct him to go to the moon and back.

Dustin Hoffman kicked if off with his supremely annoying, tick-filled performance in Rain Man, that -- not coincidentally -- won an Oscar. It's amazing when you consider that John Hurt gave an alarmingly subtle performance as the equally screwed-up The Elephant Man as recently as 1980. Now subtlety has gone the way of the 8-track.

This year we have two Rain Man performances, one by Kevin Spacey in the upcoming The Shipping News and one by Russell Crowe in the new A Beautiful Mind. Both are guaranteed Oscar nominations, and neither are very interesting.

In A Beautiful Mind, Crowe plays a brilliant mathematician with no social skills who is diagnosed as a schizophrenic. He's also based on a real-life person, Nobel Prize-winner John Forbes Nash Jr., which severely ups the ante in the Oscar race. But Crowe, as directed by the goopy Ron Howard, goes way too far in his performance. And since he's the center of this new movie, we're already in trouble.

The movie takes place from 1947 to 1994, and -- I can sense the Oscar voters drooling already -- Crowe gets to age those fifty years with lots of makeup. It begins as he enters Princeton for his graduate degree in mathematics. Instead of attending classes, which he believes dulls the mind, he simply works on his doctorate. He's looking for a breakthrough original idea. That idea comes exactly when Nash least expects it to, which is precisely when we expect it to.

He lands a teaching post at MIT along with two schoolchums (Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp) and a mysterious government worker William Parcher (Ed Harris) approaches him about doing some code-breaking work to defend the U.S. against the evil commies. Nash eventually finds himself marrying one of his students, the lovely Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). His former college roommate Charles (Paul Bettany) and his young niece Marcee (Vivien Cardone) turn up to lend Nash some moral support now and then.

Unfortunately, a mysterious doctor (Christopher Plummer) diagnoses Nash with schizophrenia, and it turns out that some of Nash's acquaintances are not actually real. This is the film's greatest strength, attempting to pull a Matrix-type mind-twist on us, and it works for a short while. But unfortunately, after all is revealed, not everything makes logical sense. Moreover, the film continues for at least another 45 minutes after it clears this mystery up and we're no longer interested.

And, like I said, A Beautiful Mind tries to build this drama on a character and a performance that we simply can't relate to. All of Crowe's ticks and mannerisms add up to nothing more than an acting class exercise. There's nothing organic about this character. Even when he's lying around the house unsure of what to do with himself, he looks like he's been dolled up by the wardrobe department in a ratty shirt and pants. Neither Howard nor Crowe seem to have any idea how a person like this really lives. It's all facade.

Not to mention that the annoying screenplay, by Akiva Goldsman (Batman & Robin, Lost in Space), gives the antisocial Nash clever and charming little things to say whenever it's convenient for the plot. Otherwise, he's a complete shut-in, unable to relate to others. And let's not forget the insipid musical score by James Horner (The Perfect Storm) that blares in whenever the filmmakers fear we won't understand something.

Fortunately, Jennifer Connelly also presents herself as a serious contender for an Oscar. She's always been one of the screen's most stunningly beautiful actresses, but her skills have been escalating over the years, culminating in two amazing performances last year in Waking the Dead and Requiem for a Dream. Here she gets the uninteresting and secondary "wife" role, but dazzles us in a few good scenes.

Indeed, her marvelous, subtle performance makes Crowe's so-called scene-stealer look plain ridiculous. I admired Crowe very much in L.A. Confidential and The Insider, but I'm not at all sure he's cracked up to be a Gary Cooper or a Clark Gable. But neither is Ron Howard destined to be any kind of Frank Capra. This is a precision story as told by filmmakers who are shooting at the side of a barn with water balloons filled with syrup.

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