Crowe shines in 'A Beautiful Mind'

by Kelly Swartz | 1/15/02 6:00am

A film comes along once every five years or so when an actor uncannily conveys the dark uncertainties and idiosyncrasies of a mentally unstable character to the point that the audience becomes convinced they are observing his subtle, distinguishing characteristics in real life. Russell Crowe manages to pull off such a feat in his portrayal of John Forbes Nash, Jr., mathematical genius and paranoid schizophrenic, in Ron Howard's "A Beautiful Mind."

As Nash, Crowe combines the delicate time-bomb temperament of Dustin Hoffman in "Rain Man" with the nervous twitch of Brad Pitt in "Twelve Monkeys" to create an intelligent but disturbed man eluded by reality.

Arriving as a young student on scholarship to Princeton University in 1947, Nash plunges at once into his studies, scribbling equations in white pencil on windowpanes and tracking the path of pigeons in search of his first original mathematical theory.

Taunted by fellow classmates and unable to understand the complexity of women, Nash spends long hours in the library, only occasionally distracted by his roommate and close friend, Charles, played by Paul Bettany ("A Knight's Tale").

After his completion of the "game theory" for modern economics, Nash procures a position in the prestigious labs of MIT, teaching undergraduate classes at the university and decoding complex messages for the American government during the panicked throb of the Cold War.

Howard's sprinkling of special effects dazzle, converting Nash's mental mathematical deductions to on-screen fireworks. But the visuals are, for the most part, indecipherable eye candy.

Nash grows more involved with his top-secret government work, answering to a shady undercover agent played by Ed Harris. His only savior is undergraduate student Alicia (Jennifer Connelly) who nurses a respectable infatuation with her wayward professor and pursues him until their eventual affair leads to marriage and a child.

While Alicia is a brief distraction from Nash's snowballing paranoia and obsession with his dangerous Cold-War code deciphering, the professor eventually plummets into a pool of his own delusion.

Tormented by his government henchman (Harris) and suspicious friend Charles, who returns from their days together at Princeton, Nash is hospitalized against his will, convinced he's been seized by the Russians.

His hospitalization results in a depressing shift in the film's pace. The frantic, passionate and enthralling storytelling slows to a sluggish, sanitized pattern of recuperation and defeat.

"A Beautiful Mind" still deserves a top spot among this year's list of best pictures -- it was already nominated for Best Picture (Drama) in the 2002 Golden Globes, along with Crowe as Best Actor and Connelly as Best Supporting Actress.

The portrayal of modern-day Nash and his acceptance of the 1994 Nobel Prize in Economics are touching. Crowe does do an amazing job pulling off introverted, clean-shaven, yet disturbed Nash and deserves recognition.