“A Beautiful Mind” is one of those “high quality films” that the studios hold until the end of the year for the purpose of gaining little gold men. Oscar is king in Hollywood this time of the year.

Some of these studio films are very good and deserve the praise they desperately seek, but others are usually jumbled messes that show evidence of too many fingerprints. Compared to all the eager contenders in the past, director Ron Howard’s offering is half-and-half.

The film tells the true story of John Forbes Nash, a genius mathematician who suffered for years with schizophrenia before finally winning the Nobel Prize for Economics. Forbes is an interesting subject for a commercial film since his character borders on the unlikable in the film. He is a social misfit with a large ego. It is a tribute to Russell Crowe’s acting ability that he can squeeze out a certain amount of apathy for him. By the end of the film one is glad that such a difficult man achieves so much academic success. However, the real Nash was a lot viler with numerous character flaws.

The film does gloss over the life of Nash, making him more of a malleable fictional character that Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman mold according to their needs. The idea that biopics need to stay as close to the real person as possible to make a good film is ludicrous. Though a documentary study would need to stay true to life, film depiction does not. The purpose of the film is not exactly to examine, as it is to entertain.

But even with some artistic license, filmmakers should remain as much in the real world as possible in depicting real people. This is the biggest flaw with “A Beautiful Mind.” Though they can get away with warming Nash’s character, it is not as permissible to tinker with a real-life setting to achieve some storytelling trick.

In the past few years the “surprise film” has become trendy. The huge success of “The Sixth Sense” and “The Usual Suspects” has brought on a large number of these films. Sometimes this is done very well, as in last year’s “The Others”; and sometimes the results are just confusing, like Cameron Crowe’s “Vanilla Sky.” Even though these films have become common, they have usually been associated for genre pictures, where creative storytelling is more permitted.

But in his screenplay for “A Beautiful Mind,” Goldsman utilizes this trick – but doesn’t wait until the end, as most twist films do. He unleashes his twist in the middle of the film. For those who know anything about Nash before seeing the film, they will be confused up to this revelation, but they won’t be surprised. For those who know little about the man, the surprise is there, but they may be confused for the rest of the picture.

Ultimately Goldsman’s development is unsuccessful. It treats a serious disease for the first half of the film as nothing but a plot devise. The end result feels gimmicky and untruthful.

But after the awkward midpoint, the film really takes hold of the audience. Though it had tried to liven up the biopic genre with some new techniques, the best part of the film is the straightforward storytelling of a man suffering from a horrible disease and the struggles his wife must endure to help her husband.

The second half hands the movie from Russell Crowe over to Jennifer Connolly, who plays Nash’s wife. Connolly has been a constantly good performer, which corresponds nicely with her good looks. Connolly is beauty as eyes, nose and neck. But she has the acting chops behind the superficial, which many attractive actresses do not.

Her ability matches Crowe’s step-by-step. Her performance here proves that she is now one of the finest actresses working in film.

As for Howard, after the abysmal “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” he has thankfully returned to a more controlling approach to filmmaking with “A Beautiful Mind.” He has always shown an educated control of storytelling, despite last year’s hiccup, and proves himself again with this film. It is too bad that he is better than the film is.

While always on the cusp of respectability as a director, while receiving enormous financial success, Howard has been seeking critical approval for some time. This film may prove to be the vehicle that pushes him in that direction, after being snubbed for his work in “Apollo 13,” but it shouldn’t be.

Staff Writer Steve Allan can be contacted at: [email protected]


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