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A BEAUTIFUL MIND
Widescreen

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris
Director:  Ron Howard
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.85:1
Studio:  Universal
Features:  See Review
Length:  136 Minutes
Release Date:  June 25, 2002

“I need to believe that something extraordinary is possible…”

Film ***1/2

A Beautiful Mind succeeds as a movie, and I feel sorry for the detractors who didn’t see that.  There are those, as well documented by the recent Oscar controversy, that wanted to belittle the film via accusations of omissions and historical manipulations.  They denied themselves the chance to share in a wonderfully and unique human experience.  This is a movie that does in fact believe that something extraordinary is possible…and it will make you believe it, too.

Russell Crowe delivers an amazing performance as John Forbes Nash, a brilliant mathematician and Nobel Prize winner whose destination of success and incredible worldwide contributions came by a journey almost too harrowing to believe.  For at the same time his brain was computing and concocting new ways of thinking that would change modern economics as we know it (we studied some of his economic theories in college), it was also splintering on him, taking away his ability to function as a husband, a father, and even a human being.

Mental illness has always been a subject handled with kid gloves in movies, and if nothing else, A Beautiful Mind is at least a picture with the courage to confront it truthfully, without glamour or gloss, and without pretension.  In fact, friends I know who are involved in psychiatric studies call this the most realistic depiction of schizophrenia ever depicted on the screen.

I don’t want to give a plot synopsis, because in addition to the basic story of triumph over adversity, this is a film with some surprises.  I didn’t know them when I first saw it, and my enjoyment of the picture was magnified because of it.  I can say that director Ron Howard and writer Akiva Goldsman (both Oscar winners) found effective and imaginative ways of conveying the effects of the illness…and they weren’t all just technical.

Suffice to say, Nash started out as a man with a brilliant mind, original and influential ideas, respect, a terrific career, and the love of a beautiful and devoted woman, Alicia (the stunning Connelly, another Oscar winner) but whose world was turned upside down with the onset of a most devastating disorder.  Schizophrenia cannot be cured, but it can be controlled to a certain degree, with the right treatments and medication.  The problem for John became that while these calmed his illness, they also robbed him of his identity as a scholar and problem solver. 

The struggle for John became not only one against a debilitating mental illness, but one to regain for himself what he once was and what he once had.  There was seemingly no way he could succeed.  Yet succeed he did.  Not only are he and Alicia still married, but to this day, he still serves as an academic advisor at Princeton.  He is not free from his delusions…he never will be.  But the movie, and perhaps to a certain degree John’s life, suggests that some things are just more powerful.

I have no comments on the film’s historical accuracy or if it fairly touched on all aspects of John Nash’s life.  I’m not a sociologist, I’m a film lover, and as such I can say that while this film may have some minor flaws, it has at its core the rarest of all holy trinities:  heart, courage, and intelligence.  It never plays down to its audience for the sake of comfort, and it never loses sight of the power of love.  Best of all, it never is afraid to show the cost of faith…or its reward.

This movie may be as close as I or a lot of people get to the real John Nash, and frankly, that’s okay.  If Nash has other demons not depicted here, that only makes him as human as the rest of us.  And if what we’re left with is the simple picture of a man who succeeded over unimaginable odds and made the world a little bit better of a place with his work and life story, so be it.

Believing extraordinary things are possible is worth it.

Video ***

This transfer from Universal, while good overall, is a decidedly mixed bag.  Many of the earlier scenes were given a slightly yellowish tint for a nostalgic look, but it came across better in the theatre than it does on this disc, where the tones are a bit too harsh and unnatural.  The visuals improve as the film progresses, but the early going is also troubled with a bit of softness here and there, and even one or two brief instances of compression shimmer in longer shots.  But detail, tone, and overall presentation get better as the movie progresses, and the few minor flaws at the start are compensated for.

A separate (and unnecessary) full frame version of this title is also available.

Audio ***1/2

I can’t go into detailed descriptions about how good the 5.1 mix is without giving away some of the film’s key sequences, but I will say that A Beautiful Mind is more than just a dialogue-driven picture.  All channels come into play at key intervals, and are used quite smartly to good effect.  Spoken words are always clean and clear, and James Horner’s score is rich and full sounding as well.

Features ****

This being my first introduction to an Awards Edition disc from Universal, I have to say they gave it the same care and attention usually reserved for their Ultimate Editions.  This two disc set is packed.  Disc One features 18 deleted scenes, with Ron Howard’s audio introduction and optional commentary, production notes, talent files, DVD ROM extras, and two commentary tracks.  The first, by Howard, is an appealing listen…he talks in detail about the making of the film, the origins, the actors, and the real John and Alicia Nash.  The second, by Akiva Goldsman, is not quite as good…one gets the feeling that as the screenwriter, he was a little lost commenting on the actual shots in the picture, but he does have a sense of humor that’s enjoyable, even if his track is a little sparse overall. 

Disc Two contains a 22 minute making-of documentary and a number of smaller, subject specific featurettes that range from about 3 to 10 minutes apiece.  They include a look at Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer’s Imagine partnership, screenplay development, meeting John Nash, real footage of Nash accepting his Nobel Prize, casting, makeup, storyboards, special effects, the music, a soundtrack promo (and promos for other Universal titles), a trailer, and backstage footage of Howard, Grazer, Goldsman and Jennifer Connelly at the Academy Awards.  I believe there might be a mathematical explanation for how bad Ron Howard’s tie is…

Summary:

A Beautiful Man is about a man who triumphed over adversity, and ironically, at Oscar time, it was a film that triumphed over adversity.  A mean-spirited smear attempt couldn’t keep this remarkable film from collecting top prize and three others.  Now, last year’s Best Picture can be enjoyed at home on a quality double disc offering from Universal.