A Beautiful Mind is a big, mainstream movie biopic. It’s also a clever adaptation of Sylvia Nasar’s biography of John Forbes Nash Jr. Nash, a brilliant mathematician, succumbed to schizophrenia in the 1950s, recovered and was eventually awarded the Nobel Prize.The chief success of the film is its central performance. Russell Crowe undergoes complete changes of persona to represent Nash’s various incarnations: shy and aloof as a student; coldly arrogant while working for the US military during the Cold War; shell-shocked and paranoid in the grip of illness; shaky and cowed during his slow recovery. The aging make-up for Crowe during the closing Nobel ceremony is among the best I’ve ever seen. Jennifer Connelly also provides strong support as Alicia - Nash’s devoted, long-suffering wife.
Writer Akiva Goldsman’s key innovation is incorporating Nash’s schizophrenic delusions into the screenplay. As well as providing a visual metaphor for Nash’s wrestling with inner demons, it puts us on his level so that we’re not watching a man act mad from a distance. It also succeeds in winning our sympathy for Nash, who is not especially likeable in Nasar’s book.
Goldsman telescopes the bulk of Nash’s story into the 1950s. So many liberties are taken that the script is almost more remarkable for what it leaves out than what remains - notably excised are Nash’s probable bisexuality, and his divorce from Alicia between bouts of institutional incarceration (they later remarried). But the performances help fill in the gaps. Crowe cruises a gay man at a university function; and the strain on the Nash marriage is all too apparent towards the end of the film. At least the filmmakers admit to only making a film “inspired” by Nash’s life - a dramatisation designed to illustrate their themes of love and madness.
A Beautiful Mind is predominantly a love story, and it makes an interesting comparison to Iris, another recent film about a talented intellectual suffering an illness of the mind. Unlike that very British film, director Ron Howard’s tearjerker moments revolve around the recognition of Nash’s talent and genius. Mind offers a conspicuously male and American take on success.Despite its faults, I enjoyed A Beautiful Mind. Howard keeps the action moving and doesn’t distract from the material, besides a conspicuously gauche illustration of game theory with horny students in a bar as the “players”. Unfortunately, he overdoes some of the emotional moments, rendering them generic in the process. Worst of these are the Nobel ceremony, and a preceding staff-room scene that does not feature in the book. James Horner contributes a memorably haunting score, with vocal contributions from teenage soprano Charlotte Church.