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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Formula Works as Facts Are Left Behind
by Jeffrey Chen

There's no such thing as a Hollywood bio-pic that doesn't take liberties. If historical inaccuracies bother you, I suggest you shouldn't try watching any movie about the life of a real person. However, if you can get past them, you might find yourself quite entertained. One extreme example of taking liberties in the name of making a great movie is Amadeus. Mozart was not a giggling fiend, and Salieri was not his enemy, yet the movie makes a great statement about the frustrations of the artist who is not lucky enough to be born with genius.

A Beautiful Mind is nowhere near as great a movie as Amadeus, nor are its goals as intellectually lofty. It is a bio-pic about Nobel Prize-winning mathemetician John Forbes Nash, Jr., and it only wants to be a feel-good movie. To accomplish this, it takes a large number of liberties in regards to its subject.

Based on the biography by Sylvia Nasar, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman fashioned A Beautiful Mind as a script about a man who courageously triumphs over disease. In reality, Nash did just that -- his schizophrenia went in to remission late in his life, and he was able to continue the work that would eventually earn him the Nobel Prize in 1994. That was apparently all Goldsman needed to work out his three acts: getting to know the man, finding out about his disease, and witnissing his fight to beat the disease. Gone are such biographical details as his bisexuality and the fact that he and his wife divorced when his bouts with schizophrenia became unbearable (in the movie, she sticks with him to the end and is the most integral part of his support network). Instead, an almost formulaic story of an honest struggle drives the movie.

And an effectively entertaining movie it is. Goldsman and director Ron Howard have worked out a way for the audience to truly participate in the delusional world of Nash. The film's portrayal of schizophrenia is convincing and frightening. Supporting the movie are James Horner's standout score and Roger Deakins's cinematography, which is inviting when photographing college campuses and fear-inducing when filming night sequences lurking with government spies. Best of all is the acting by the two leads, Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly. You won't believe Crowe was an intimidating gladiator a year ago as you watch him play Nash as a socially awkward smart-ass, nervous and proud all at once. Connelly plays Nash's wife as a woman who is clearly smitten by the genius at first, but then becomes trapped by that love when she becomes his reluctant caretaker. Her scene of confession to the character Sol (Adam Goldberg) successfully displays the pain of her situation.

A Beautiful Mind intrigues the crowd with Nash's world of academics and secret government projects. When the schizophrenia sets in, the audience is hooked enough to be roused at the inevitable winning of the Nobel Prize. It is formula Hollywood at the top of its form -- moving, at times humorously touching, well-plotted, and well-acted. It is just too bad that it resembles Nash's actual life as closely as a pear resembles a lime. If you want to enjoy yourself at these kinds of shows, though, you're better off leaving those concerns at the door.

©Jeffrey Chen, Dec. 28, 2001

(Released by Universal Pictures/DreamWorks and rated "PG-13" for intense thematic material, sexual content, and a scene of violence.)

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