Wednesday, 27 March 2013

A Beautiful Mind

I saw A Beautiful Mind sometime in 2003 when I was still living at home with my parents. I remember that we all loved it and for a little while it became my favourite film. (Note I discovered Martin Scorsese the next year). Ten years later and I barely remembered a thing about it. I remembered Russel Crowe and something about maths and spying but that was all. I didn’t even remember how remarkably well formed Jennifer Connolly looked. I certainly didn’t recall any twists or surprises. Coming back to the film after ten years in my bid to watch every Oscar Best Picture winner (the film won in 2002) I was left disappointed by some very obvious twists and character development, something my young mind didn’t pick up on in 2003 and had subsequently forgotten. This early flaw put a dampener on the entire film and although it is very good in places, I could never quite get over the early let down.

The film is based on the life of Mathematician John Nash (Crowe) and we pick up his story as he begins his Doctoral thesis at Princeton in 1947. It is immediately obvious that he is highly gifted, egotistical and sure of his talents but lacks interpersonal skills. This is something which is picked up upon by his class mates and he makes very few friends in his time at College. He does gradually become acquainted with his eccentric English room mate Charles Herman (Paul Bettany) and the two remain close for many years. After a major breakthrough at Collage, Nash begins working at MIT but his unusual personality begins to develop into something more and he is taunted by mental illness which interrupts his work and threatens to break up his family.

I want to try and avoid spoilers as much as I can as even I who had seen the film previously, had forgotten the plot development. It took less than fifteen minutes to figure out a major element of the film which once I got, made me pick up on things which I wish I wasn’t able to. Very early on I ‘worked out’ one of the central characters and later immediately recognised a second. This gave me insight into the plot and Nash’s character much earlier than it is revealed and it put me off the remaining hour and forty minutes. I became acutely aware of every character interaction and glance rather than focussing on the plot itself. It is around half way through that all of this is confirmed by the film and from then on the problem wasn’t so bad but I think with a twist like the one I’m skirting around, the fun is in the reveal. This was ruined after only a few minutes.

The rest of the movie is generally very good. The film begins in 1947 and ends in 1994 so spans many eras. Much of the plot takes place in the 40s and 50s though and the period detail is very appealing and natural looking. Nothing felt forced. What did feel a little forced though was Russell Crowe’s appearance. Nash himself was 19 in 1947 and Crowe was in his mid thirties. He looks far too old to be playing the young Nash and this problem persists even when the character is around 35 himself. It isn’t until the 60s and later when the makeup and prosthetics get it right and in the latter stages the prosthetics actually look very good on both Crowe and his character’s wife Alicia (Connolly). Crowe is very good as Nash and has a decent go at a West Virginia accent. It’s not perfect but he’s done much worse. He is also carrying a little of his Gladiator bulk which doesn’t really match his character but otherwise he is excellent. Paul Bettany is great and Ed Harris, John Lucas, Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp are all well suited to their particular roles. I was never bored of seeing any of them on screen. Jennifer Connolly won an Oscar for her performance as Nash’s long suffering wife. Her love and persistence is what keeps Nash together for the most part and indeed her love is countered by Nash’s own lust. It isn’t until the latter stages when you feel the love is reciprocated. She holds it together quietly and professionally but can be loud and angry when necessary. Overall she is very well cast.

The script is a strong point and the dialogue is fantastic. It is full of lines like “I can let the world know what you did, I need you now soldier!” which both inflate the ego of the central character as required and give an insight into his own mind. It’s a clever and interesting script which is only let down by the early problem I’ve already touched upon. I had a little problem with the arc of Jennifer Connolly’s character that went from math prodigy to housewife without further mention of her talent but as the film is based on true events I can’t moan too much about that. I still enjoyed a lot of A Beautiful Mind and there’s no doubt that it is a good film but I enjoyed it much more ten years ago and when looking at its competition in the 2001 awards season (Gosford Park, Moulin Rouge!, LOTR: Fellowship.. etc) I feel as though it was lucky to fall in a weak year and had it been a year later would have won a lot less.   



  • Paul Bettany and Jennifer Connolly met on the movie and were married a couple of years after filming.
  • Mutterings in the final scene about what tea he should have were based on what really happened when Crowe met the real John Nash.
  • The film was shot in sequence to assist Crowe with the character's changing and deteriorating mental functioning.
  • Much of Nash's life is left out of the film. This includes his second marriage (to the same woman), his various affairs with both men and women, his child born out of wedlock and anti-Semitic comments he has made.         


  1. Good review Tom. Not a great movie, but still a very good one. I started to lose my taste for it after I read an article about how much crap out of this guy's life they really didn't even bother mentioning. Your comments at the end just reminded me. Thanks, I guess!

    1. For what is essentially a biopic there is a lot missing but you're right, it's not a bad film.

  2. Great review. I agree with your comment on the script, it is what I remember most about the film. The ending speech however, seemed a little bit too clichéd, and I think it would have been a much more powerful ending with all of the professors recognising John Nash's success as a mathematician with their gesture, as that was symbolic of 'the truth' of things: the true reality was John Nash had a brilliant mind, troubled, but brilliant.

    1. You're right, the pen scene would have put a line under everything very neatly. They could have added the Nobel prize to the epilogue in writing just before the credits.

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