Friday, November 12, 2010

More Illness Than Math: Why A Beautiful Mind Didn’t Grab Me.

The Good: Interesting Characters, Generally Good Acting
The Bad: Intriguing Visuals Are Not Maintained, Plot Is Often Not Advancing.
The Basics: In a close call, A Beautiful Mind fails because its most intriguing parts tend not to be real and the aspects that are real fail to entertain or engage.

First off, I've never liked Russell Crowe. I thought his role in L.A. Confidential was the worst part of the film, I thought Gladiator was the worst nominee and worst film to get Best Picture in some time. So, when I sat down to A Beautiful Mind, I did not expect to enjoy it. While that changed, I still believe Peter Jackson and The Fellowship Of The Ring were robbed at the Oscars the year A Beautiful Mind made its debut.

A Beautiful Mind tells the story of mathematician John Nash, a paranoid-schizophrenic who starts out at Princeton. And yeah, we're not informed early on that he suffers from paranoid-schizophrenia. After that, Nash basically oscillates between having good days as a paranoid- schizophrenic (like the one where he goes out with Alicia, the woman who will become his wife) and bad days as a paranoid-schizophrenic (like the one where he nearly drowns his baby).

The problem is, that's all it is. Paranoid-schizophrenia is a serious disease. It's a horrible condition that affects millions of people worldwide. It's not terribly entertaining. So when John Nash's very cool government cipher-cracking job is revealed to be a figment of his paranoid-schizophrenia, the most interesting aspect of the film dissolves. And I'm afraid to say it, but it's the math.

If only the film had stuck with the mathematical aspects of John Nash. Or, hell, made a fiction as opposed to telling Nash's story. Instead of focusing on the brilliant mind that is able to see mathematical patterns and decipher obscure equations, the film degenerates into a "these are the hallucinations that come when a paranoid-schizophrenic stops taking his pills" film. And that's a fine type of film in itself, but not when the movie sets itself up as something different. That's false advertising.

The way A Beautiful Mind does this - and the reason I think Peter Jackson was robbed - is through a clever opening wherein visual stimuli that Nash perceives are related mathematically. It's clever and it's drawn out well. It's also a technique that disappears very quickly from the movie. The film loses its magic and then becomes something very different. Ron Howard begins the film with an eye for keeping things interesting, but he loses it quickly. Far superior was Peter Jackson's The Fellowship Of The Ring in telling a story and making it visually intriguing.

As for the acting, Russell Crowe has not fully redeemed himself in my eyes, but I cannot fault him for his performance here. He's not Tom Hanks caliber, by any means, but he does a good job as Dr. Nash. His acting comes through best when Nash begins to age and Crowe does a surprisingly good job mimicking the movements of an older person. It's almost enough to excuse his inconsistent, supposedly Virginian accent.

Jennifer Connelly does a great job as Alicia Nash, serving as an excellent, humanistic foil to a character who seems to be so different from who we are. She brings warmth and compassion beyond the simple words of the script to the part. She deserved her Oscar.

The rest, not so much. The film is too inconsistent, trying to be three things: an intriguing story, a hard-hitting narrative on paranoid-schizophrenia, and a biography. Dr. Nash is a real person. I salute the work he did to earn his Nobel Prize. The problem is, he accomplishes that in the first half hour of A Beautiful Mind. Everything between that and the last five minutes (second to last "chapter" if you have a DVD player) is just something confused and jumbled that's trying to balance three types of films. It ultimately fails to be entertaining, borders on the informative and is mostly unfulfilling. No movie over two hours ought to be unfulfilling.

As a winner of the Best Picture Oscar, this film is part of W.L.'s Best Picture Project, available by clicking here!

For other films that bend reality, please check out my reviews of:
Dark City
Donnie Darko


For other film reviews, please visit my index page for a current listing of all I have reviewed!

© 2010, 2009, 2002 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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