Monday, March 5, 2018

Despite Being About A Real-Life Genius, A Beautiful Mind Is A Pretty Thoughtless Movie

Russell Crowe has had quite the odd career hasn't he? Now, he's a famous actor, no one would ever deny that, but after headlining two back-to-back Best Picture winners (Gladiator and the subject of this review, A Beautiful Mind) and scoring a Best Actor win, the guy starred in two big projects (Master And Commander: Far Side of The World and Cinderella Man) that underperformed financially and then headlined the box office dud A Good Year in November 2006. In the nearly twelve years since then, he's only starred in a handful of movies and mostly stuck to supporting roles. Not an odd career trajectory at all for a leading man to shift into supporting roles, it just feels, to me anyway, like Crowe's time as a leading man came and went in the blink of an eye given how buzzy he was at the start of the century.

The Ron Howard biopic A Beautiful Mind was what helped send Russell Crowe onto everyone's radar back in 2001 as Crowe portrayed real-life mathematician John Nash throughout his entire life. That includes his years in college, during which then-36-year-old Russell Crowe tries to pass himself off as nearly twenty years younger than he actually is. That's such a highly amusing element the feature expects us to take seriously, it's like they're doing a serious version of that great gag in Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story where John C. Reilly plays the fourteen-year-old version of Dewey Cox. That attempt at farcical humor is done as an entirely straightforward element we're supposed to take seriously in the intense drama A Beautiful Mind.

It isn't just Nash in college that we get to see, goodness no. We basically get to watch the entirety of Nash's life from college onward, from him engaging in a romance with his future wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) to him being diagnosed with Schizophrenia. Deciding to put so much of Nash's life into a singular motion picture is one of the biggest problems with Akiva Goldsman's screenplay. Way too many life events are crammed into one story, the viewer is constantly being thrust forward in Nash's life which leaves little to no time for events that are unfolding on-screen to truly have an impact. Various pivotal people and events in Nash's life and the people end up being, at best, simply a blur that rushes right by.

The middle section of the project is its high point and even this segment of the production can't help but feel more icky, for lack of a better word, than it probably should. This middle section I'm referring to is when Nash is diagnosed with schizophrenia and begins seeing visions that challenge his perception of reality. Director Ron Howard films these sequences in a fashion reminiscent of classic espionage movies and he's surprisingly solid at evoking such intense high-wire thrillers, thus making this the most watchable portion of A Beautiful Mind. That being said, some fine filmmaking can't compensate for how clearly this story reduces the experience of living schizophrenia and its symptoms to simply something that allows Russell Crowe the chance to give big showy performances as he talks to people who aren't really there, we rarely, if ever, get the chance to really see how this affects Nash or his loved ones in a realistically complex way.

A Beautiful Mind constantly chooses to use incredibly broad characters and overly simplified narrative choices that feel ill-suited for a story starring a character dealing with schizophrenia. The fact that too much of the first act is spent on moments where Nash's more unusual behavior quirks are played for mean-spirited laughs further reinforces how A Beautiful Mind struggles with properly handling it's lead characters mental disorder. A handful of good performances (Jennifer Connolly and Paul Bettany are the best of the bunch, though Russell Crowe never really came together for me in his portrayal of John Nash) and Ron Howard doing some fine work behind the camera can't compensate for how tragically non-innovative A Beautiful Mind is as an overall motion picture.

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