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Review: 'Beautiful Mind' is intense

By Paul Clinton
CNN Reviewer

(CNN) -- A movie about a schizophrenic mathematician who won a Nobel Prize for economics sounds like a beautiful cure for insomnia. But in the hands of director Ron Howard ("Apollo 13," 1995), screenwriter Akiva Goldsman ("The Client," 1994), and Academy Award winner Russell Crowe ("Gladiator," 2000), "A Beautiful Mind" is an intensely human drama revolving around the grand themes of great triumph over intense adversity and the power of unwavering love.

Based on the true story of John Forbes Nash, Jr. (who is still alive), this heartfelt journey of the mind will undoubtedly bring Crowe a third consecutive Oscar nomination. The story begins with Nash, a mysterious young genius from West Virginia, entering Princeton University in 1947, and climaxes with his acceptance of the Nobel Prize in 1994.

Nash's innate brilliance was only surpassed by his lack of social skills and his intolerance towards the structure of an Ivy League education. Nash was obsessed with discovering an original idea, believed that was the only way his life would ever matter. His only emotional support during his days at Princeton came from his roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany, "A Knight's Tale," 2001)

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Eventually, Nash develops an economic theory that flies in the face of 150 years of accepted thought. This achievement makes him the poster boy of the academic world, and brings him to the attention of a shadowy figure from the United States government, William Parcher (Ed Harris). Parcher secretly recruits him as a code breaker during the height of the Cold War.

But Nash is a fragile genius. He lives his life in compartments; reality and fantasy fade and blend. Gradually, the pressures of this new double life cross over into paranoid delusions. His already fragmented world becomes completely fractured as he struggles to learn what is real and what isn't real in his schizophrenic existence.

During this time Nash -- now working at MIT -- meets a young physics student, Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly), and falls in love. She breaks through his shell and becomes his refuge when all else fails him later in life. Only through sheer willpower, and Larde's support, does Nash slowly return to a unique type of reality that allows him to carry on with his life.

"A Beautiful Mind" is a story about survival, chronicling Nash's journey from merely possessing a beautiful mind to developing a beautiful heart as well. This adult, multi-layered movie is the type of film that will require very special marketing on the part of the studio, and lots of positive word of mouth.

Goldman's script is only partly based on Nash's biography, also titled "A Beautiful Mind," by Sylvia Nasar. One of the greatest departures between the book and the screenplay is Nash's alleged bisexuality. The book goes into great detail about his sexual experimentation with other men and an arrest for indecent exposure. Apparently, the filmmakers didn't think this revelation would go over well with Crowe's fans or his image (although Crowe did play a gay man in the 1994 Australian movie "The Sum of Us"), and may have made the film impossible to make.

Connelly made her acting debut at age 11 in Sergio Leone's "Once Upon A Time In America" (1984). But it was her appearance in "The Rocketeer" (1991) that first brought her to the public's attention. Now with this film (and her appearance in "Requiem For a Dream," 2000), she has finally come into her own.

As for Harris, it would be virtually impossible for him to make a false move on screen, and once again he does not disappoint. His perfectly measured performance gives a sense of urgent reality to an extremely difficult role.

It would also be impossible to imagine this film without Crowe in the leading role. Nash's arrogance, sense of destiny, and competitiveness all melt away as his schizophrenia makes him furtive, doubtful and obsessive, requiring subtle shifts of character and emotional subtext beyond the talents of many actors.

Despite the "Hollywoodization" of Nash's personal life, "A Beautiful Mind" is a thoughtful, provocative film about human frailties and human strength.

"A Beautiful Mind" opens limited on Friday, and goes wide on January 4, 2002. It's rated PG-13 with a running time of 2 hours 9 minutes.


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