Spanning some 40 years, from post-World War II through the early ’90s, “A Beautiful Mind” is a sugar-coated bio-pic/period piece about the mental anguish of theoretical mathematician John Nash (Russell Crowe). The story follows Nash from his postgraduate years as a Carnegie Fellow at Princeton, through his battle with schizophrenia and ultimate triumph over the disease.
With mannerisms straight from the eccentric genius handbook, Nash does what the affected do best: He reclusively shuns the outside. His curt demeanor and general lack of social graces help to distance him from his old-money schoolboy rivals. With little love of friendship or classes, most time is spent in the library scrawling equations on the windowpanes, searching for a truly original idea that will set him above and apart from the overachieving pack.
Occasionally, his prodigal roommate forcibly pulls him out of his dorm-room-insomniac shell to the local pub. On one such evening, the concept of vying with his rival classmen over a lovely blonde provides the key to unlocking his original idea – a new theory on competition that flies in the face of 150 years of accepted economic theory. After proving himself, Nash lands a prestigious position at MIT as a research professor and finds love within the classroom in grad student Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). Nash’s position lends itself to serving his country – combating the forces of cold war communism as a code breaker working for the enigmatic William Parcher (Ed Harris).
The courtship results in marriage and a small child, but happiness is short-lived. Nash’s colleagues begin to notice a change. The good doctor has begun to ignore his duties and is obsessed with clippings of newspapers and magazines, searching for secret Soviet messages. We soon find out that much of Nash’s work for the Department of Defense was never official, just the delusional manifestations of the mental affliction schizophrenia.
Poor casting you might think, turning the former general of the Roman legion into a commander of the slide rule. After all, Crowe is known more for his hunk status than that of pinup boy for the American Journal of Mathematics. As evidenced in “L.A. Confidential” and “Gladiator,” Crowe has the ability to play the explosive and magnetic. Here he conveys intellectual ferocity, while keeping the West Virginian phrasing and nervous ticks consistent. The supporting roles have little room to maneuver, but at least the complementary pieces fit. The classical beauty of Jennifer Connelly lends itself well – as it has many times before – to period piece work. Ed Harris pulls off the tight-lipped G-man stoicism he patented in the mid-’80s.
The lion’s share of praise should go to Crowe, for giving humor and depth to his portrayal of Nash. The lion’s share of blame should go to Howard for the film’s fatal flaw: a trademark happy ending. Opie grossly glosses over a vital component of the story: Nash’s illness and the treatment thereof.
Though the film does a superb job representing the symptoms of Nash’s genius, it is too afraid of going into any clear detail of John’s illness, briefly indicating the patient’s progress before ashamedly flashing forward to the his triumphant return to the academic world stage. What might have been an interesting look into psychiatric treatments at the time of Nash’s disease becomes a washy treatise on the power of love.