'Beautiful Mind': A Terrible Thing to Waste

By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, December 21, 2001

"A BEAUTIFUL Mind," based on the life of mathematician and Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash Jr., is about the beauty of thinking outside the box. Follow the content of the movie, which includes a strong performance by Russell Crowe, and you might enjoy this picture all the way.

But director Ron Howard fails to apply the outside-the-box approach to his own movie. Instead of an originally conceived movie that reflects Nash's troubled but brilliant mind, we have one of those formulaically rendered Important Subject movies – the kind that seem exclusively designed for Best Picture nominations.

Nash, a West Virginia man with no elite education, finds himself among the Haves at Princeton. To his colleagues, he's a social misfit, a hick without a clue. But they underestimate his brain power and his will.

Nash, who seeks out original ideas rather than waste time attending classes, hits upon his Eureka! one night at a bar. When Nash and his fellow scholars all have designs on the same woman, he contemplates the situation. If everyone wants the same thing, and only one person benefits, how to find a solution for everyone?

Nash's napkin-written formula, it turns out, not only solves the immediate quandary, it applies to similar situations in economics, business and other sciences. On top of that, Nash gets the girl – the brilliant, beautiful Alicia (Jennifer Connelly).

Nash's formula impresses his academic superiors and eventually leads to a powerful job at MIT. His uncanny ability to crack codes brings him into contact with shadowy government agent William Parcher (Ed Harris), who enlists him to help fight the Cold War.

Then comes the real battle. Nash discovers the mental anguish he's suffered from most of his life is paranoid schizophrenia. For all his intellectual abilities, he's a prisoner of his mind.

It's a great idea for a film, based on a compelling character. Nash, whose theories have influenced global trade negotiations, national labor relations and evolutionary biology, still works as a professor at Princeton. And there's no end to the skilled maneuvering from Howard, screenwriter Akiva Goldsman and Crowe, who's often superb as Nash.

But the movie's all formula, formula, formula. Hellbent on masticating everything – no matter how elusive and original – into easily digestible, user-friendly pulp, the filmmakers render Nash into mash. And if Nash were a screenwriter rather than a mathematician, I dare say he might even agree that the movie, no matter how well intentioned, remains a mediocre rendition of his great mind.

A BEAUTIFUL MIND (PG-13, 135 minutes)Contains intense thematic material, sexual scenes and a scene of violence. At Mazza Galerie.


© 2001 The Washington Post Company