Was Ron Howard's A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001) really that much better than the other films that were nominated for the Best Picture Academy Award that year? The competition included GOSFORD PARK, IN THE BEDROOM, THE LORD OF THE RINGS: THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING and MOULIN ROUGE!. I must confess that I haven't seen any of those four contenders but I did watch A BEAUTIFUL MIND for the first time the other evening and I found it to be an exceptionally fine film, one entirely worthy of the honor of Best Picture of the Year.
The film tells the story of mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe), a brilliant man with profound mental problems. The film begins at Princeton University in 1947 and follows Nash's life and career up until he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1994. That doesn't sound like exciting stuff but Akiva Goldsman's screenplay (adapted from the book by Sylvia Nasar) slowly builds a layered portrait of a very disturbed, complex individual, evoking both the audience's sympathies and a fair measure of suspense.
Things start to go off of the track when post graduate Nash is recruited by a mysterious, shadowy CIA agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), to engage in an elaborate, top secret code breaking assignment. He can't tell his wife, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), nor his old college roommate Charles Herman (Paul Bettany) and his niece Marcee (Vivien Cardone). But things just don't add up during the course of his assignment. There's gun play and a nighttime chase, followed by constant surveillance of Nash. His paranoia becomes all consuming. Something is clearly, desperately wrong.
Director Ron Howard does a terrific job during this first act of the film, conducting a sleight of hand act of cinematic misdirection worthy of that displayed by M. Night Shyamalan in THE SIXTH SENSE (1999). When the truth is revealed, it's a forehead-slapping, "of course" moment for the audience.
But Nash's troubles are just beginning as he undergoes treatment for his paranoid schizophrenia. The treatment appears to be successful but Nash emerges a heavily medicated shadow of his former self, unable to perform the mathematical work that he lives for. He stops taking his meds and relapses, placing his wife and infant son in danger. But he learns to deal with his demons and eventually returns to Princeton where he audits classes and slowly begins to work with students again. He is eventually recognized as a brilliant scholar with all of the attendant accolades.
Russell Crowe delivers a brilliant performance as the troubled Nash. The take-your-breath-away-beautiful Jennifer Connelly is equally good as Alicia, who truly loves Nash and stands by him through thick and thin. The supporting cast is solid with stand out performances from Harris, Bettany and veteran Christopher Plummer. The film, which spans the years from 1947 to 1994, gets all of the respective period details right. Both the cinematography, by Roger Deakin and the score, by James Horner are first rate. In short, A BEAUTIFUL MIND is a compelling, engrossing biopic that is spellbinding from beginning to end.
A BEAUTIFUL MIND was nominated for eight Academy Awards including: Best Picture (winner), Best Director (winner), Best Actor (Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (Connelly, winner), Best Adapted Screenplay (winner), Best Film Editing, Best Makeup and Best Original Score.