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In the past, people have appreciated a warning when a movie is better seen without too much foreknowledge. A Beautiful Mind is such a film. If you’re one of those people, then stop reading this review, avoid all other reviews, and go see this film before someone talks about it at a holiday party.

An Awkward Mind

Crowe bends pen and paper to his own useRussell Crowe steals the show as John Nash, the 1994 Nobel Prize winner for economics.

Director Ron Howard shows Nash’s life beginning with his first day of graduate school at Princeton University in 1947. All the other “freshmen” have made their marks in the world of mathematics as undergraduates. Only Nash (among his circle of friends) has not yet been published.

It’s not through any shortcoming on Nash’s part. He’s as bright as the next fellow. But Nash doesn’t want to publish purely for the sake of publishing. He wants to come up with a truly original idea, something uniquely his, something that will etch his name into the history books.

Nash’s distinguishing characteristic is his social awkwardness. Only his roommate Charles (Paul Bettany) can relate to him. Nash does try to connect socially. He hangs out with the other math majors at the bars, and he even tries to pick up girls with horribly inappropriate, yet mathematically simple pickup lines about “exchanging fluids.”

Minds of Tomorrow

Nash’s first big break comes when he hits upon a new theory of competition and cooperation that revolutionizes the world of economics. Soon Nash is “Professor Nash,” and he has his own office and an interesting consulting job with the Department of Defense.

Unfortunately, he also has classes of students. His disinterest and social awkwardness vex him as he tries to teach a classful of undeserving young “minds of tomorrow” about advanced mathematics.

There is one student who seems to understand the practical implications of his seminal work. Her name is Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) and she sees beauty in him that no woman has been able to find, and she becomes the love of his life. About her he says “contrary to all probability, she finds me attractive on many levels.”

Never Mind

Much of Howard’s film covers a period of Nash’s life that is personally, professionally, and emotionally difficult. It’s a period best left undiscussed in this review, so let’s cut to the good and the bad.

Einstein, Feynman, and Nash

Russell Crowe is a fine actor. He nailed The Insider, impressed the masses with Gladiator, and in A Beautiful Mind, brings to life an insecure yet brilliant young man. And although Nash isn’t quite another Einstein or Feynman, his life story makes a good film. The score is pretty and appropriate. The cinematography and production design are right on-target, but the reasons to see A Beautiful Mind are Russell Crowe’s performance and John Nash’s story.

30 Years Too Many

There are a few reasons to avoid this movie, assuming there are other films you’d rather see. For example, the ending is weak. It tries to sum things up too simply. It says Nash’s story is all about love, when in fact there’s much more to it than that.

In fact, stretching Nash’s story all the way into 1994, just to let him get the Nobel Prize, is quite possibly a mistake on the screenplay’s part. Nash’s story — the conflict in his soul — is the central conflict of this film. That conflict is resolved and the audience is emotionally satisfied 30 years sooner. True, there wouldn’t be a movie if Nash had not won the Nobel, but a title card at the end would have been sufficient.

Still, A Beautiful Mind is a more successful biopic than Ali (which also opens today). Howard treats his subject’s life as a movie, not just as a series of events. There is a satisfying structure to the story, and although the movie carries on just a little too long, that’s a minor complaint in an otherwise good film.

  • ram: this review sucks big time! January 6, 2009 reply
  • Marty Mapes: And why does it suck? January 6, 2009 reply