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'Beautiful Mind'

Everything adds up in 'Beautiful Mind'

Tuesday, December 25, 2001

By Barry Paris, Post-Gazette Movie Critic

In the absorbing film equation "A Beautiful Mind," the hero and main variable is a mathematician -- too variable for his own good. And Russell Crowe, last year's Oscar-winning best actor in "Gladiator," may be headed toward another.

John Nash Jr., the real-life figure Crowe renders this time, is an eccentric genius who shows up at Princeton's brutally competitive math department in 1947 with no prep-school pedigree, money or manners -- just chips on both shoulders. He was born with two helpings of brains but only half a helping of heart: "I don't like people much, and they don't like me."

 
 
"A Beautiful Mind"

Rating: PG-13 for intense thematic material, sexual content and one mildly violent scene.

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, Adam Goldberg, Judd Hirsch.

Director: Ron Howard.

WEB SITE: www.abeautiful
mind.com

Critic's call:

   
 

His only "real" friend and confidant is roommate Charles (Paul Bettany). Otherwise, Nash is abrasive to professors and fellow students alike and cares obsessively about only one thing -- "finding a truly original idea."

Indeed he does so, early on, in Game Theory -- his brilliant analysis of situational strategies in which the outcome of one's choice of action hinges on the actions of others. Nash's mathematics of competition had applications to business, war and biology (among many other arenas) and boldly contradicted the long-accepted economic doctrines of Adam Smith. But Nash himself would not be able to refine and develop it.

Moving from Princeton to MIT at the peak of the Cold War, Nash is recruited by a shadowy Defense Department operative (Ed Harris) for top-secret work as a code-breaker -- and becomes increasingly consumed and frightened thereby. He is forbidden to confide even in his wonderful student-turned-wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). The secrecy and danger mount. So do his insanely complex cryptological formulas. He gets weirder and weirder by the day, and finally lost in delusions -- his genius undermined by paranoid schizophrenia.

It's a disease thought to be incurable as well as degenerative in the 1950s, but he decides to fight it. Victory won't come for 30 years -- in the form of the 1994 Nobel Prize.

Director Ron Howard ("Splash," "Cocoon," "Parenthood," "Far and Away," "Apollo 13") is getting better and better. This time around, he is greatly aided by Akiva Goldsman's script (based on Sylvia Nasar's biography of Nash), full of as much trickery as artistry in the subtle depiction of dubious characters.

Crowe ("L.A. Confidential," "The Insider") was cast in this film before, not after, "Gladiator," in which -- I'm sorry -- he struck me as looking, sounding and acting like a nouveau Richard Burton, so monochromatic in such a self-important toga epic no less ponderous than "The Robe" or "Cleopatra" or Charlton Heston's biblical forays. But he has a rare quality of seeming not to be aware of (or playing to) the camera, and he's quite wonderful here.

In the tradition of "Charly" and "Shine," this is a story about surviving mental illness and -- more specifically -- its pain and family impact. To survive is heroic enough. But to survive and go on to achieve -- and to achieve such heights!

You've gotta hand it to Howard. He and "A Beautiful Mind" got me (and I bet will get you) interested in this subject for the first time since "new math" ruined it for most of us in high school.

It was the other way around for John Nash: The fickle finger of fate nearly ruined his life, but not his math.

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