WFTB Score: 12/20
The plot: Brilliant mathematician John Nash comes up with revolutionary new theories that are to have profound effects on global economics, bringing him fame, respect and a beautiful wife. However, whilst working for the military he is also recruited by a shadowy agency who ask him to work on a top-secret assignment. The stress of the work and secrecy have their own profound effect on Nash’s health.
Hot on the heels of A Sixth Sense and Fight Club came this interesting exercise in things not quite appearing as they seem. Ostensibly a biopic of John Nash’s eventful life, A Beautiful Mind is both much more and a little less than that. If that sounds confusing, all will be explained; however, if you haven’t seen the film yet and think you might want to at some stage in the future, I would advise you to stop reading now.
Because: Like the two films mentioned above, A Beautiful Mind contains a plot twist that turns everything on its head, though halfway through rather than at the movie’s climax. Like the other films, the revelation makes subsequent viewings of the film a completely different experience to the first; unlike them, I’m not sure that the film is still successful regardless of whether or not you know what’s going to happen.
But to begin at the beginning: Russell Crowe is John Nash, a brilliant but socially inept young mathematician who arrives at Princeton University in the late 40s and fails to make friends except for swaggering housemate Charles (Paul Bettany), who does nothing but hang about and distract John from coming up with the original idea that will make his name. However, inspired by thinking of optimum courtship strategies – the film is, ideally for the mainstream, very light on actual maths – Nash comes up with a groundbreaking thesis on governing dynamics (or something).
Five years later, Nash is teaching at MIT and undertaking code-breaking work for the Pentagon, facing further distractions in the shape of attractive, forthright student Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and hat-wearing secret agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), in addition to Charles who now has an orphaned niece in tow. Parcher takes Nash aside one evening and informs him of a highly confidential assignment: The Russians have obtained a portable atomic bomb which they plan to detonate in America, and are swapping codes through newspapers and magazines. Nash is charged with looking through the magazines to find and unscramble the codes. As his involvement in the plot, and paranoia, deepens and things become more dangerous, Alicia, now his wife and pregnant, grows increasingly concerned that John’s world is falling apart.
If you don’t want to spoil it for yourself, now’s your last chance… Okay. A psychiatrist (Christopher Plummer) arrives to calm Nash down, and in his office it is revealed that neither Charles, his niece, nor Parcher are real, Nash suffering from schizophrenia which causes him to hallucinate. Credit must be given to director Ron Howard for managing the story well, making the imaginary characters plausible whilst dropping in small clues; but it does also feel like a bit of a cheat, and though it is a terrific surprise on a first viewing, the second time round you do wonder what actually happened to Nash during the events of the film’s first hour.
Alicia stands by, suffering with her husband as John undergoes Electro-Convulsive Therapy, and the film changes focus, concentrating on Alicia as much as it does John as it shows them struggling to operate as a normal family. I was disappointed by the shift from thrilling drama to human one, especially since the formerly edgy characters begin to give worthy, sentimental speeches typical of some of Ron Howard’s other work. Although Nash is far from cured, he and his wife work through their difficulties by concentrating on the love they have for each other and ignoring the hallucinations that demand John’s attention – he even says goodbye to them sentimentally (the little girl hallucination cries!).
Running out of events in Nash’s life, the film zooms forward twenty years to when Nash starts teaching again, and then another sixteen to two moments of unforgivable mawkishness. Firstly, echoing a scene Nash has seen in his youth (and which we just know is going to come his way), Nash receives pens from fellow professors as a mark of respect; secondly, as Nash receives the Nobel prize, he gives a corny speech in praise of his wife and the ‘mystical equations of love.’ Not only is this the wrong time and place for such a speech (and, as the DVD extras show, a million miles away from the real 1994 ceremony), but it is entirely out of character for Nash compared with the rest of the film.
As far as performances go, Crowe is credible as the disturbed mathematician, bringing off his idiosyncrasies with aplomb, even if he looks a little chunky for the role. Connelly, in her Oscar-winning performance, displays the full range of emotions, strong and supportive but capable of frustration and fear. There is plenty to enjoy about A Beautiful Mind, especially as a naïve viewer, but perhaps not enough to maintain interest on repeat viewings unless, as the Academy obviously did, you like life stories with a sugary coating.