Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Throw-Back Movie Review - Oscar Edition: "A Beautiful Mind" by Alex Schopp

Release: 2001
Director: Ron Howard
Written By: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar
Actors: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany
Rated: PG-13
Run Time: 135 min

Over the next couple of weeks, each of us here at the Slackers Selection Movie Blog has decided to do a special segment reviewing some of our favorite Academy Awards Best Picture winners. Since the Oscars are now less than two weeks away, we figured, what was more fitting than recapping some of our favorite winners? Each of us picked one film that has won the prestigious award, and over the weeks leading up to this year's winner, we'll all unveil our reviews. And as you can see in the title of this post, I've decided to go with "A Beautiful Mind". I'm not sure if critically it's looked at as one of the top Best Picture winners of all time, but it's definitely one of my favorites.

For those of you who haven't seen this movie - which, by the way, should be rectified immediately - it was released in 2001 and directed by Ron Howard. It was nominated for eight Academy Awards and won a total of four. It stars Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris and Paul Bettany, among others. The film follows the real-life struggles of brilliant mathematician, John Nash (Crowe), who spends his entire life overcoming a mental illness.

The film begins with Nash attending grad school at Princeton in the late 40's. Nash is a mathematics prodigy and is obsessed with discovering his own, completely original theory in the subject. Eventually becoming successful in his goal, he makes new revelations on the ideas of "game theory" which propel him to the top of the scientific world. After completing school, Nash becomes a professor at M.I.T. and meets his beautiful wife, Alicia (Connelly). Things are going well for Nash until he is visited by a C.I.A. agent (Harris) and is recruited for Cold War code-breaking assignments. Alicia starts noticing incredibly odd behavior from her husband and begins to worry. Over time she starts to believe that a mental illness may be present, and though Nash refuses to accept this, eventually Alicia does get him institutionalized for paranoid schizophrenia. Nash battles the illness for decades and ultimately finds a way to gain some control over it and get back to some normalcy in his life. He's never fully cured of the disease, but with the continual help and support from his wife, they fight it together. The movie culminates in 1994 when John Nash is awarded the Nobel Prize for Economics.

This movie is beautifully put together in every aspect. As I usually do in my reviews, I'll start with the acting. Russell Crowe plays a character both dealing with an immense intelligence and an extreme mental disorder. He constantly flows back and forth between the sides and does so with such nuance that in most scenes you can't tell which is showing through more brightly. Initially, he's arrogant and cocky and grows up in a world where he's used to solving problems. Up until the disease, nothing presented itself that he wasn't able to overcome. But as the illness starts to take over, you see how badly he wants to hold on to his dignity and how hard it is for him to accept help from others. He's believable and honest in this role. You root for him and feel his pain.


His counterpart in the film, Jennifer Connelly, won an Academy Award for her performance as the magnanimous wife. Her performance is strong but also gentle. She goes through so much in this film but never asks for anything. She knows the real man inside is still there, and she continues to fight for him every step of the way. Even with all of the pain and struggles over the years, she always stays by his side. Through the trauma and frustrations, there is true love from both sides in this story, and both characters convey it wonderfully.

While this movie didn't win any of the tech awards at the Oscars (thanks a lot, LOTR!), I still feel that this was one of the best movie scores of all-time. James Horner composed a score that advances the movie perfectly. For example, in the scenes where Nash is figuring something out and A Kaleidoscopic of Mathematics cuts in, it still gives me a chill and a feeling like I'm actually witnessing something extraordinary happening. And even with the cinematography in these scenes, when Nash is problem-solving and you can see the different equations and mathematical signs forming and collecting in the air around him, it's really beautiful. They did a great job of finding a way to show these processes happening in his mind. (SIDE NOTE: I've been listening to the score from this movie the whole time I've been writing the review. And even now that I'm going back and editing it, I have to say, if you get a chance to turn it on whilst reading this, I'd highly recommend it. It adds a nice touch.)

Overall, in my opinion, this film is both Howard and Crowe's pièce de résistance. That's a heavy thing to throw around, I know, especially for such accomplished artists. But every aspect in this film is perfect - from the directing and the writing, to the acting, musical score and cinematography. It all comes together just right and leaves us with a final product that clicks on all facets. If I were going to sum up this film in one word, I'd borrow one straight from the title: Beautiful. The story is gripping and emotional; it's uplifting and also saddening. The pacing is good and never lets itself linger in one area for too long, and the side elements of the story provide enough thrill to keep you involved. It's a great watch and one that I believe everyone can find value in.