A Beautiful MInd

When producer Brian Grazer read that Vanity Fair article about John Forbes Nash Jr., he must have known he was holding Oscar gold in his hands.

A genius mathematician from West Virginia, Nash distinguished himself and revolutionized economics with his analysis of equilibria in noncooperative games. But that’s not the real meat of the story.

A diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic, Nash also suffered from delusions – he was convinced he was working as a code breaker for the U.S. government – from which he struggled for decades.

But rather than end up in a mental institution, drugged to the gills, with the power of his mind, Nash fought his way back.

“A Beautiful Mind” is a story of triumph, human greatness and, overall love. His wife, Alicia, a one-time physics student at MIT, stayed by his side. Real emotional and uplifting stuff.

Grazer turned the story over to Akiva Goldsman, the son of a therapist and a child psychologist and screenwriter of “The Client,” “Batman Forever” and “Lost in Space.”

But rather than faithfully adhere to Sylvia Nasar’s rather dry biography, Goldsman takes his story into yet another direction, giving his audience an exploration of madness.

What is it like to be schizophrenic? How does a genius see the world?

“A Beautiful Mind” throws open a window on the brain and affords us a fascinating vantage point.

Grazer next handed the script to longtime partner, Ron Howard, a director with a undeniable ability for creating characters worth caring for.

Knowing that a strong team can get the job done, Howard assembled a phenomenal cast and crew from Hollywood’s best and brightest.

Even before he won accolades for “Gladiator,” Crowe’s name topped the list as Nash.

For he is one actor, who even when playing a rough-and-tumble guy, as in “L.A. Confidential,” can get beyond the tough guy exterior and show us the character’s aching, raw soul.

As Nash, Crowe plumbs the depths of this eccentric genius, giving a performance that would make Dustin Hoffman shout from the rooftops. While Nash is written as a self-absorbed man, given to moments of self-importance, Crowe softens the edges by presenting him as a fragile human. This acting chameleon helps us connect with and understand the mind of genius.

We all want to leave our mark on the world and Nash was no different. All he wanted was to find a truly original idea so he wouldn’t disappear. Another Oscar could be in Crowe’s future.

Intense, tough guy Ed Harris rekindles his relationship with Howard – Harris starred in “Apollo 13” – producing great results.

In anyone else’s hands, the shadowy agent William Parcher might be a throw-away part. But Harris has teeth and won’t let any part, no matter how small, get away from him.

If you ever want to see how acting should be done, watch this blue-eyed master in “Pollack.” It will cover you in goose flesh.

Jennifer Connelly has been acting since she was 14, however, she’s only recently begun to make her mark. Last year she impressed critics everywhere with her portrayal of Marion Silver, an innocent who plunges into hell head first in “Requiem for A Dream.”

Although Crowe is the lead in “A Beautiful Mind,” his face is on the movie poster, Connelly’s part is just as, if not more, important. Alicia is the heart of the piece, and without her devotion and strength Nash’s story probably would have read very differently. Connelly proves she’s full of surprises.

Paul Bettany, a British actor who never seems to keep his clothes on, also adds some color as Nash’s beer-loving roomate Charles. And Judd Hirsch and Christopher Plummer add compassion.

Howard has never been a mediocre director, however, it takes cinematographer-extraordinnaire Roger Deakins to push Howard’s vision into fantastic new realms.

Deakins, who started as a still photographer, has a unique take on things, which is why he’s so well-suited to the kings of the original-idea, Joel and Ethan Coen. (Deakins has been the cinematographer for nearly every Coen brother film, including the magnificent “O Brother Where Art Thou?”)

With Golden Globes buzz for his work on “The Man Who Wasn’t There,” Deakins could pull a Steven Soderbergh and have to compete against himself in March.

For decades, Howard has relied on editors Daniel P. Hanley and Mike Hill to stitch everything together, and why not stick with something that works so well? In 1995, the editors shared an Oscar for “Apollo 13.” History could repeat itself.

Composer James Horner creates the perfect instrumental compliment to the film.

This Oscar-winner for “Titanic” reteams with lyricist Will Jennings – who wrote “My Heart Will Go On” – to produce the beautiful and ethereal, “All That Love Can Be,” sung by Welsh soprano Charlotte Church.

It’s like eavesdropping on the rhythm of the universe.

To allow the actors to build emotionally, Howard made the rare, and often costly, decision to film in continuity – from the first script page to the last. The film begins in 1947 with Nash embarking on his Princeton University years and ends in 1994, with Nash’s acceptance of the Nobel Prize. As to differentiate each era, Deakins changed the film’s tone and lighting, the makeup artists added wrinkles and grayed the hair here and there and Rita Ryack adapted the costumes. It’s a subtle shift, but critical to keep us moving forward.

The filmmakers did their research for “A Beautiful Mind,” talking to Nash and his wife as well as having a Barnard College mathematics professor on the set. Their attention to detail shows.

For those who aren’t mathematically inclined, some of this material could prove daunting, but thanks to Goldsman’s fantastic script; Crowe and Connelly’s performances, and Howard’s steady hand, it never gets bogged down in jargon.

A person also can appreciate the film on different levels. It’s a love story, a record of academic achievement and exploration of the mind, all rolled into one. And despite the serious subject matter, it’s surprisingly full of humor.

With six Golden Globe awards – best screenplay, best performance by an actress in a supporting role, best performance by an actor, best original score, best motion picture and best director – and more accolades trickling in, “A Beautiful Mind” trails only behind “Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring” as this year’s best offering.

Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen, I think we could see a sweep in March.

Author: Julien R. Fielding

Julien R. Fielding has been reviewing films, and covering the entertainment industry, for more than a decade. Her favorite genres are sci-fi, horror, action, and anime. She authored the book, Discovering World Religions at 24 Frames Per Second.

Share This Post On

Submit a Comment