I have to admit to not being excited about seeing director Ron Howard's latest, "A Beautiful Mind." Howard is a good craftsman (who achieved greatness with "Apollo 13") but one who tends toward formula. And if there's one formula I avoid when possible, it's the Disease-of-the-Week film. I really even only liked the first half of "Shine" a few years ago.
However, "A Beautiful Mind" is one beautifully made film. It is the story of John Nash, a brilliant mathematician (brought vividly to life by Russell Crowe) who works on top-secret government projects at the height of the Cold War, but also suffers from schizophrenia.
There's a major plot twist that I don't want to give away involving a shadowy supposed government agent played by Ed Harris; but the core of the film is really a great love story. Jennifer Connolly plays Nash's wife, Alicia, as a woman who is as determined as she is beautiful.
Alicia's answer to a friend who asks how she's doing, and which hints at asking why she's still around, is as good an illustration of "for better or for worse" as a movie has ever given. She shows that love really is, as the great Clint Black song says, "Something that we do."
Howard takes some risks in "A Beautiful Mind," and this is, in many ways, his highest achievement. "Apollo 13" had a story that would have been hard to mess up; but here, there are many choices made by the director that really cause the film go above and beyond. He makes Nash's schizophrenia real to the audience by looking at it through Nash's eyes in a unique way that I can't give away here without ruining some surprises.
Russell Crowe, would certainly win the Oscar for Best Actor for this performance if he hadn't won last year for "Gladiator." So what? Give it to him anyway. This part is leagues away from that one; and people don't pay attention to such things might not recognize the guy. Talk about range! The chameleon-like Crowe is not only today's most believable action hero, he can really get into the skin of a true life character and transform himself into that person, as he already proved in "The Insider."
This really is a two-person show, and Jennifer Connolly matches Crowe's intensity scene for scene. Her nomination is also richly deserved, though I think Sissy Spacek in "In the Bedroom" is the sure winner.