A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Directed by Ron Howard

Honestly, I was expecting to be a bit bored by this film. There was so much hype about it, particularly during the Academy Award circus, that it had begun to grate on me. I was predisposed to dislike the movie.

One of the interesting aspects of this movie has nothing to do with the movie as a movie. It has to do with public perceptions (images) and how they may or may not affect a film.

With the baggage I brought to the movie, I was surprised to find I liked it. I liked it a lot. In hindsight, I shouldn’t have been caught by surprise. Ron Howard, like the “Ah shucks,” image or not, is a great Hollywood director. If anything, he may be too good for his own good sometimes, creating a sense of “too slick.”) He knows pacing and editing intuitively, it seems. Everything he makes is easy to watch – it holds your attention and pulls you into the story. The only issue with him as a director is how good is good.

In this case, A Beautiful Mind, it’s very good. I think Howard’s secret is in his attention to story and character. This is always the key to the best movies and I think in Ron Howard’s world, while he is definitely detail oriented in terms of special effects, cameras, lighting etc., all these are secondary to the story.

My only objections to this film are external – the emphasis in publicity, interviews etc. on the real John Nash. This, mind you, isn’t necessarily the filmmakers’ fault – it may be more the fault of the media. But in the DVDs special features there is considerable emphasis on Nash, so the filmmakers are responsible at least in part.

The problem with an emphasis on external factors is that they taint the film with comparisons – how accurate is this? How much license did they take? And so on. These factors should not come into play when judging the final film (but they inevitably do).

Regardless, the film’s success begins with the script and a very intelligent, effective narrative technique that allows us, to some degree, into the world as perceived by the schizophrenic. Once established, the point of view changes so we see the world as it is. However, having seen it through Nash’s eyes (Russell Crowe) we have a greater empathy and are much more involved than we otherwise would be.

Like Ron Howard, Crowe is somewhat weighed down by public image too. Like him or not, we all have an image of him and we take that baggage into our viewing of the movie. But once the film starts, he is brilliant. I think it’s possible to get a sense for how good he is by how quickly we forget he is Russell Crowe once the movie starts.

Again, you may or may not like the Russell Crowe who comes across in Entertainment Tonight and all those other Hollywood fluff shows. But there are very few actors around who, like Crowe, really do create original characters on the screen, different from film to film. With the exception of Anthony Hopkins, I can’t think of another actor with a broader range in his body of work.

Leave a Reply