It is sometimes difficult for actors who hit it big in action flicks to effectively transition to a dramatic role, but Russell Crowe (“Gladiator,”) drowns out any lingering doubt and gives a compelling and truly amazing performance in “A Beautiful Mind,” directed by Ron Howard. “A Beautiful Mind,” based on a true story, tells the story of John Forbes Nash Jr. (Crowe), a brilliant yet socially incompetent mathematician who gets diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic.
Nash, who obsessively works out algorithms and can make patterns and equations out of anything (a gathering of pigeons, groups of women, etc.), is in constant search of an “original idea.” He eventually wins the Nobel Prize in game theory in 1994, making valuable contributions to economics, global trade and labor relations. This accomplishment, however, is at the expense of his relationship with his colleagues, his family and most of all, his sanity.
Although “A Beautiful Mind” has a few flaws that place it below “Good Will Hunting” and “Forrest Gump,” two other films with a similar theme, the premise of “A Beautiful Mind” is heartbreaking. We are talking about a man who finally finds love, but because of his delusions, cannot even give his child a bath or simply conduct a conversation without seeing imaginary people at the same time. The film painfully reveals the torment and anguish caused by one who must live with the chronic disorder, and it also shows its effects on those most dear to him, especially his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly, “Requiem for Dream”). As his condition intensifies, those around him have to deal with the pain of tolerating and loving a man who cannot think clearly.
An original element in this film is the director”s choice to make us look at situations from the perspectives of both Nash and those around him. The film progresses through his life, taking us from his early days at Princeton to a job at the Pentagon as a code breaker to him as an old man being congratulated with the Nobel Prize. More importantly, we see Nash”s delusions through his eyes, therefore not knowing for ourselves what is real and what is not.
When Nash is first diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and taken to a mental hospital, he is completely preoccupied by the presence of a man named William Parcher (Ed Harris), who had found him at school and then even at home, telling him how his new governmental duties are a severe threat, and that Russian spies are after him. These “delusions” are of course symptoms of paranoid schizophrenics, and although one quickly realizes that Parcher is not real, Harris” eerie performance makes Parcher the driving force behind Nash”s erratic behavior.
The pace of the film is just right up until the end, but then it moves way too fast, skipping years at a time. These lapses are common in other films, but they seem too rushed here, and this unfortunately puts a damper on the incredible buildup established throughout. The film finds a way to end the story realistically, but some themes that were so wonderfully explored seem to fizzle out, rather than strengthen the story. Connelly, for example, gives an outstanding performance, and one might wish there was more focus on Nash”s family rather than his mathematics. However, these two elements are connected very well, and they reveal that Nash”s talent is a hindrance just as much as it is a benefit, and that his very delusions involve his mathematic ability.
Despite the rushed feeling at the end of the film, “A Beautiful Mind” does one thing it complicates one”s notion of reality by boldly exposing what it just might feel like to know a person like Nash, such a beautiful person, but a man so utterly conflicted by a painful and debilitating disease of the mind.