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A Beautiful Mind Print E-mail
Tuesday, 11 January 2005

A Beautiful Mind

Universal Studios Home Video
MPAA rating: PG-13
starring: Russell Crowe, Jennifer Connelly, Ed Harris, Paul Bettany
release year: 2001
film rating: Four Stars
sound/picture: Three-and-a-Half Stars
reviewed by: Abbie Bernstein

Last year’s Best Picture Oscar winner "A Beautiful Mind" is fascinating viewing, both as a story in its own right and because its protagonist, Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash, Jr. (played by Russell Crowe), is a real-life figure. Much has been made in the press of the movie’s divergence from historical fact about the man, but it still has undeniable power.

In 1947, the young Nash arrives at Princeton University with a brain full of mathematical gifts and virtually no skills at human interaction. Despite this, he forms a strong friendship with his outgoing British roommate Charles (Paul Bettany) and forges more tentative bonds with a few of his fellow mathematics students (Adam Goldberg, Josh Lucas, Anthony Rapp). Nash shows signs of mental imbalance under the strain of trying to come up with a truly original idea under pressure, but when he succeeds, he’s hailed as a genius. After graduation, Nash lands at MIT, reluctantly teaching classes while immersed in all-consuming research. Nash is courted romantically by one of his physics students, the forthright Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly) and recruited for top-secret government decryption work by the mysterious Parcher (Ed Harris). As before, the hard work – along with the secrecy – start taking their toll, and it looks as though Nash may be headed for the breakdown he avoided in college …

The precise nature of what’s wrong with Nash’s beautiful mind is genuinely shocking, one of those terrific cinematic twists that is intelligent and well-hidden in plain sight. Director Ron Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman, who both won Oscars for their work here, using Sylvia Nasar’s nonfiction biography of Nash as a basis, manage this narrative twist perfectly and then build upon it, so that our concern as to whether and how Nash will ever be healthy increase as the film proceeds.

Crowe is thoroughly convincing as Nash, getting us to comprehend his actions, however strange they appear to others. We are shown the preoccupation behind Nash’s often rude, distracted manner. Connelly, who won a Supporting Actress Oscar for playing Alicia, exhibits appealing brightness and strength in a part that begins with deceptive simplicity and becomes something memorable. Harris by turns instills in Nash (and in us) confidence and dread, creating a figure who is appropriately enigmatic, while Bettany is deeply likable.

"A Beautiful Mind" causes us to care greatly for the characters and empathize with their confusion and misery. The filmmakers also do a good job of giving viewers with little understanding of arithmetic some comprehension of what’s going on in Nash’s mind, using visual techniques reminiscent of those in "Little Man Tate" to illustrate his thought processes.

The film comes to DVD in an extras-laden two-disc set. The picture quality is usually sharp and lovely, although there are a few shots – especially a psychiatrist’s office sequence in Chapter 13 – where white elements glow and bleed a bit. The transfer is faithful to Howard’s vision of warm reddish-gold lighting in the early, nostalgic sequences and cooler hues as Nash’s situation becomes grimmer.

The sound on the film proper is surprisingly quiet. After a lush swell of music in Chapter 1, the volume plummets for the first dialogue sequence in Chapter 2. Chapter 4 has nice detail on effects like a hand slapping a face and a pane of glass breaking, but the latter sounds as though it is at the same volume level as a desk crashing out a window and landing on the pavement one story below, which should surely be somewhat louder. Chapter 6 has an interesting effect as Nash hears whispering all around him, clean and precise rather than buzzing. Chapter 12 has some rather plinky gunshots, but the lack of resonance may be deliberate for reasons that become clear slightly later in the story. Chapter 16 has a strong, enveloping hiss that represents an aural aspect of the apprehension rising in Nash’s mind, and there are realistic storm effects in all speakers.

Directional sound is not utilized much. A jackhammer that is visually located screen left pounds away in the center speaker in Chapter 7, and an auditorium full of people applauding in Chapter 19 keeps the sound primarily in the center and mains rather than trying to make us feel encompassed by the crowd. However, the balance between the dialogue, James Horner’s handsome score and ambient sound is maintained well throughout.

Director Howard and screenwriter Goldsman each have an intelligent, informative commentary with the film. There is an unusual amount of deleted scenes, with an appealing verbal introduction by Howard. His commentary is invaluable on first viewing of the deleted footage, providing much-needed context. Each deleted scene shows up as a separate chapter on the DVD player, but they aren’t itemized as menu selections – should you want to find a particular one, you’ll need to use the "skip forward" button to reach it. The deleted scenes (with the exception of one marred by grease pencil markings) are in extremely good condition.

The second disc contains a multitude of interviews, featurettes on various aspects of the film and, perhaps most intriguingly, a look at the real Nash, providing an intriguing contrast with Crowe’s version of him.

"A Beautiful Mind" achieves its goals on an uncommonly high number of levels, emerging as an imaginative, provocative drama that also functions as a thriller and a love story, with some thought-provoking looks at how human interactions can translate into mathematical equations and back into something that affects society.

more details
sound format:
English Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround; French Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround
aspect ratio(s):
special features: Audio Commentary by Director Ron Howard; Audio Commentary by Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman; Deleted Scenes With Optional Director Commentary; Making-Of Featurette; Featurette on Partnership Between Director Ron Howard and Producer Brian Grazer; Featurette on Development of Screenplay; Featurette on Real John Nash; Accepting the Nobel Prize in Economics; Casting Featurette; Age Makeup Featurette; Storyboard Comparisons; Special Effects Featurette; Music Score Featurette; Reactions of Producer Brian Grazer, Director Ron Howard, Actress Jennifer Connelly and Screenwriter Akiva Goldsman to Winning Academy Awards; Production Notes; Cast and Crew Filmographies; Theatrical Trailer;, Spanish Subtitles; English Closed-Captioning; DVD-ROM Features
comments: email us here...
reference system
DVD player: Kenwood DV-403
receiver: Kenwood VR-407
main speakers: Paradigm Atom
center speaker: Paradigm CC-170
rear speakers: Paradigm ADP-70
subwoofer: Paradigm PDR-10
monitor: 27-inch Toshiba

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