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Drama movie directed by Ron Howard

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Finding Equilibrium Within

  • Feb 10, 2009

WARNING: This review contains spoilers!


From acclaimed director Ron Howard (Backdraft and Apollo 13) comes A Beautiful Mind, a sensitive biopic about the life of brilliant mathematician John Nash. The screenplay, which was based on the inspirational book by Sylvia Nasar, was written by Akiva Goldsman and focuses on the Nash's life from his days at college up until his winning of the Nobel Prize in 1994.
Brilliant, but troubled...


A Beautiful Mind should not be viewed as a historically accurate chronicle of Nash's life, as screenwriter Akiva Goldsman does take liberties with the characters and events, adding a creative flourish to reality. But this in no way detracts from either the emotional authenticity of the story or the way it was skillfully acted and directed. A Beautiful Mind is an extraordinary film achievement and has a beautiful heart.

The film would go on to become one of most critically lauded films of the year 2001 and it even won the "Best Picture" category at the Academy Awards. Although I didn't feel that it was the best film of the year, I did find it to be a compelling film and Ron Howard's best directorial effort to date.

An unusual proposal...


The story begins in 1947 and follows John Nash as he struggles to make a name for himself at Princeton University. Despite his genius in the realm of mathematics, Nash finds himself to be something of an outcast due to his awkward social mannerisms. His only real friend is Charles Herman, his outspoken yet likeable roommate. Charles is lively and energetic, and with his encouragement John begins to reach outward socially. But John's focus and determination to come up with a truly original mathematic theory isolates him… until by accident he discovers equilibrium. Feverishly setting about to prove his theory, John works himself to the point of exhaustion, but he is rewarded when his theory is not only embraced by mathematical scholars, but also by his fellow students. John is hailed as a genius.

A little over five years later, John is called upon by the U.S. government to be a code breaker. Working with fellow Princeton graduates, Sol and Bender, John is caught up in the paranoia of the Cold War. He is recruited by William Parcher, a tough-as-nails Defense Agent, who assigns John the task of decoding secret messages in the printed media.

Meanwhile, John teaches an advanced math class at M.I.T., and soon a romance is kindled between himself and an intelligent and audacious student named Alicia Larde. John is taken aback by Alicia's flirtatious personality and Alicia finds John's repressed humanism to be intriguing. It's not long before John and Alicia are married, and John is overjoyed when Alicia announces that she's pregnant. But their blissful marriage is intruded upon when Parcher pulls John deep into his world of political conspiracies. John is overwhelmed with paranoia, affecting his ability to teach, and driving a wedge between he and Alicia. Just when things seem as though they couldn't get any worse, John's world collapses. He is confronted by Dr. Rosen, whom has John committed to a mental institution. There, John is told that he has schizophrenia, which causes severe delusions, hallucinations, and paranoia. At first john refuses to believe this, but then his fears are confirmed when Charles and Parcher turn out to be delusions. They never really existed at all.

John is kept in the institution for some time while he undergoes intensive treatment. When he's released from the institution, he at first shows signs of improvement, but his medication makes him unable to perform complex mathematical procedures. It also affects his sexual drive, preventing him from being physically intimate with Alicia. Desperate to feel alive again, John begins skipping doses and as a result his delusions return more vivid than ever. When John's illness becomes a danger to Alicia and their child, he is forced to overcome his schizophrenia through his intelligence and will power.

Over the next few years he learns to fight against his disease, all the while yearning to return to some sense of normalcy. John returns to Princeton after receiving permission from his former college rival, Martin Hansen, who now runs the math department. John spends most of his time relative seclusion, watching the comings and goings around him. Often he is the butt of jokes and some students mock him behind his back. But over time he once again becomes a respected figure at Princeton and he begins to inspire students in a way that he never could before. Though there is no cure for schizophrenia and his delusions still haunt him, John carries on with his life and remains to this day with his loving, caring wife, Alicia.


Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly 

The film features a phenomenal cast including Russell Crowe as John Nash, Jennifer Connelly as Alicia Nash, Adam Goldberg as Sol, Ed Harris as Agent Parcher, Christopher Plummer as Dr. Rosen, Paul Bettany as Charles Herman, Josh Lucas as Martin Hansen, and Judd Hirsch as Professor Helinger. Russell Crowe gives a sympathetic and multi-faceted performance as Nash, and Jennifer Connelly is equally impressive as Nash's patient and devoted wife, Alicia, who is his main support during his mental collapse. Christopher Plummer lends his authoritative qualities to the role of Dr. Rosen. And Josh Lucas gives his best performance to date as Martin Hansen. But perhaps the most difficult roles in the film belong to Ed Harris and Paul Bettany since they are effectively playing the figments of a disturbed man's imagination. The entire cast is at the top of their game and I can't imagine any of them ever outdoing the performances that they give here.


The film is gloriously enhanced by the score, which was composed by James Horner and showcases the vocal talents of young opera starlet Charlotte Church. The music is hauntingly beautiful and provides an emotional window into John Nash's mental state as he undergoes the pain and confusion that his delusions put him through, while reflecting the hope and compassion of his wife, Alicia. It's odd to me, that of all the awards that this film received that "Best Original Score" wasn't one of them. The soundtrack to A Beautiful Mind is perhaps one of the greatest film scores that I've heard and it's evocative of the challenges and triumphs that Nash has experienced during his lifetime.


One of the few complaints I have about the film is the way in which Nash's delusions are portrayed and presented to the audience. We, as viewers, aren't given any foresight into the fact that much of what we are seeing John do and experience isn't real. In many ways this is frustrating and seems manipulative on the part of the filmmakers. Misleading your audience may work well in other genres, such as the thriller and horror films, but in a historical drama it feels gimmicky and false, as though the filmmaker is relishing his ability to put one over on viewers. Ron Howard and Akiva Goldsman claimed that they took this approach to try to let viewers into the mind of John Nash, to let them see through his eyes, and to show them how confusing and fragmented the world must be for people afflicted with schizophrenia. I can certainly appreciate their attempt at showing us Nash's perspective of reality, but it still feels forced and derivative of other films. Yet this is a relatively minor flaw, which will become easier to forgive after multiple viewings.

 Awards Edition DVD

 A Beautiful Mind is a superlative dramatic achievement that is highlighted by stunning performances, strong direction, a gorgeous score, and a psychologically complex story.

This review is dedicated to all those that struggle with mental illnesses and to those who dedicate their lives trying to help them.

For a better understanding of schizophrenia and other debilitating mental disorders, please visit the following websites:

DVD True Love... An Unconventional Proposal... Paranoia Sets In... The Lost Genius...

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July 30, 2010
Yeah man this was a good one indeed, it has been years since I have watched it.
July 31, 2010
Yeah, I was blown away by the acting in this film. It has a wonderful soundtrack too. I only wished that the script had been given to someone else.
February 14, 2009
Finally, here's the full review. Once again sorry about the glitch.
February 10, 2009
excellent write up. I know the filmmakers did try to put us in Nash's point (I noticed that the pigeons weren't flying away from the little girl when she walked by) but in a way, I thought it was an ingenious touch to give the audience some clues. I'll be back, still st work, just wanted to read this now...
February 10, 2009
Every now and then I, too, have trouble transferring reviews from Word to Lunch. But nonetheless, I really like your take! This is definitely one of my favorite movies, hard as it may be to watch.
February 10, 2009
Thanks. I'm still trying to figure out why the first paragraph didn't get posted. Cory said that there have been some problems with transferring text from Word documents on to the site, but I've never had that problem before, and I've sent him the full text of my review to see if he can do anything about it.
February 10, 2009
It's odd, but for some reason the first paragraph of the review wasn't posted, and though I've tried reposting it, it doesn't seem to register. <:(
February 10, 2009
Agree on all counts. Strange isn't it that Crowe gets the Oscar for GLADIATOR but not for this film?
More A Beautiful Mind (2002) reviews
Quick Tip by . July 12, 2010
posted in Movie Hype
This movie was visually stunning with great performances from its cast. It did not receive a 5 from me because there needed more research in the portrayal of Nash's schizophrenic hallucinations.
review by . March 26, 2007
posted in Movie Hype
Russell Crowe did an incredible job of portraying the real-life story of Princeton Professor John Nash, a brilliant mathematician who won the 1994 Nobel Prize, despite his dysfunction due to schizophrenia. My heart went out to this amazing man for all he suffered; his perseverance tugged at my heart strings; and I was heartened by his wife standing beside him through thick and thin. I'm highly encouraged that Professor Nash managed to kick his dependence on the schizophrenia medicine and go on to …
review by . February 06, 2004
Highly riveting film with a super performance by both Russell Crowe and Ed Harris. Even though the director changed John Nash's life a great deal to make it a more entertaining movie.John Nash, a genius who came up with a business model that was adopted by many businesses, is a social oddball that is so dedicated to his studies that he has absolutely no concept of social skills. He finds it a task to even make the slightest bit of conversation with a female. The only person he seems to get along …
review by . December 15, 2002
Beautiful Mind won a swag of Oscars, including best picture, so you'd have to give it the benefit of the doubt. But, an hour in, my patience was sorely tested: a jumbled intro, some sketchy back-story exposition, and the film makes a hard left hand turn and appears to veer into low-rent Bond territory; Ed Harris appearing as a mysterious, over-hammed Chandleresque government dude, shooting up Russian infiltrates, and spouting the most hackneyed dialogue you'll find outside a Bruce Willis disaster …
review by . October 26, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
From the perspective of the working mathematician, the good news is that a major feature film blockbuster was made about a mathematician. The bad news is that the major reason it was made was due to his mental illness. John Nash is a mathematician whose work in the theory of games won him a Nobel Prize in economics, and yet he suffers from mental illness that was so severe that he sometimes literally lived in another world.    Mathematically speaking, the producers do as good a job as …
review by . January 28, 2002
posted in Movie Hype
Pros: Russell Crowe, true story (somewhat)     Cons: none!     The Bottom Line: Good solid work by Russel Crowe who stretches his acting credentials from Gladiator!     Plot Details: This opinion reveals no details about the movie's plot. Beautiful mind - the latest from Ron Howard. How can you miss with a film about mental illness and genius all wrapped up into one?      I think most of us would acknowledge that insanity …
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A Beautiful Mindmanages to twist enough pathos out of John Nash's incredible life story to redeem an at-times goofy portrayal of schizophrenia. Russell Crowe tackles the role with characteristic fervor, playing the Nobel prize-winning mathematician from his days at Princeton, where he developed a groundbreaking economic theory, to his meteoric rise to the cover ofForbesmagazine and an MIT professorship, and on through to his eventual dismissal due to schizophrenic delusions. Of course, it is the delusions that fascinate director Ron Howard and, predictably, go astray. Nash's other world, populated as it is by a maniacal Department of Defense agent (Ed Harris), an imagined college roommate who seems straight out ofDead Poets Society, and an orphaned girl, is so fluid and scriptlike as to make the viewer wonder if schizophrenia is really as slick as depicted. Crowe's physical intensity drags us along as he works admirably to carry the film on his considerable shoulders. No doubt the story of Nash's amazing will to recover his life without the aid of medication is a worthy one, his eventual triumph heartening. Unfortunately, Howard's flashy style is unable to convey much of it.--Fionn Meade
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Director: Ron Howard
Genre: Drama
Release Date: December 21, 2001
MPAA Rating: PG-13
Screen Writer: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar
Runtime: 135 minutes
Studio: Universal Home Video
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