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Journey of a Troubled Genius 

*A Beautiful Mind (PG-13)
Universal Pictures

In A Beautiful Mind, director Ron Howard honors the kind of intellect that has long fascinated him. Who else would see the sexiness and intrigue of a Princeton graduate student who scribbles mathematical equations on the leaded glass windows of his dorm room? Howard has brought to the forefront one of those guys who lingered heroically at the background of his film Apollo 13, the ones with pocket protectors, crumpled shirts and bad hair who directed space launches from their desks on the ground at mission control, staring intently at control panels and computer screens, making quiet history.

Granted, the story of Nobel Prize--winning mathematician John Nash contains elements that lift it from the mysterious and mundane to dramatic heights. Nash was no scientific grunt -- he was a truly original thinker who devised what is called game theory, something I don't pretend to understand but which has revolutionized economic thinking in the past half century. And just as he reached the zenith of his career, Nash was diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic and spent a number of years undergoing violent insulin shock treatments and repeated hospitalizations. His personal life grew volatile and unpredictable as well, venturing far from the central, loving domestic situation depicted in this film.

For that departure, for not including the stickier details of Nash's personal life in the film, director Howard has been roundly excoriated by many critics. But it's a silly argument. Neither the extraordinary life of John Nash nor the nature of movies with a capital M lends itself to strict adherence to reality. Here, Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman attempt to explore the mind of a larger-than-life character and the torments of schizophrenia -- and they succeed wildly.

Howard's first triumph is impeccable casting. Russell Crowe seems born to play this part. His Nash is furtive, shy, clumsy, huge, darkly witty and intense. With a slightly hunched, protective physicality, Crowe plays Nash as a man struggling to protect his finest asset -- his inexplicably complicated and fragile mind. When Nash meets Alicia, the physics graduate student who will eventually become his wife (played by the beautiful Jennifer Connelly), he is clearly bowled over but proceeds with hilariously stubborn and tortured caution.

Howard tells Nash's story in strict chronological order, complete with those clumsy text messages that tell us whether we are at Princeton University or MIT and in which year. But the screenplay and direction are anything but perfunctory. I won't reveal the central plot trick of the film but will only say that its effect is to leave the viewer feeling true loss and anguish, understanding to a small degree that the delusions of the schizophrenic are perhaps his closest companions. While the film doesn't say so directly, it certainly suggests that Nash's madness was an integral part of his beautiful mind -- the part that elevated pure intellect to the level of art.

A Beautiful Mind also succeeds as an old-fashioned love story where the devotion and care of a good woman bring the guy back from the brink of disaster. Alicia is steady and strong but not long-suffering. As played by Connelly, she radiates self-confidence and faith in the man she chooses to marry and stick with through unthinkably difficult times. Connelly, who has enjoyed strong roles in some good films (Inventing the Abbotts, Requiem for a Dream, Pollock) gets her breakthrough role here, more than holding her own against Crowe's formidable presence. She's a classic Hollywood beauty who projects a blunt intelligence, mixing strong screen appeal with thoughtful delivery.

Like Howard's best films, A Beautiful Mind is a calculated crowd-pleaser focused on triumph over tragedy. There are a couple of uncomfortable moments: Crowe adopts an exaggerated shuffle as Nash enters middle age, which feels like overacting; and in the final scene where Nash delivers his Nobel Prize acceptance speech, Connelly's makeup looks like it might fall right off her face if she cries too much or moves too abruptly. But overall, director and crew skillfully avoid schlock by injecting the film with humor and chance. John Nash's life makes for compelling storytelling, and A Beautiful Mind rises to the task, giving us an unforgettable character and a heartwarming if harrowing tale. Expect Crowe to do what industry experts say will never happen -- walk away with the Academy Award for Best Actor for the second year in a row.



A reminder to theater owners and operators:

We, the viewers of Colorado Springs, are only somewhat appeased that we have finally been treated to 2001's blockbusters. We're still waiting to see a number of films that were released months back but have not yet seen screen time in our fair city. Please take note. Here's the short list of the film's we're waiting to see:

In the Bedroom
Amlie
Ghost World
Gosford Park
Our Lady of the Assassins
The Princess and the Warrior
The Man Who Wasn't There

(Readers are invited to add their requests to the list. Send suggestions to: Attn: Film, Colorado Springs Independent, 121 E. Pikes Peak Ave., Suite 455, Colorado Springs, CO 80903; by fax to 577-4107; or by e-mail to kathryn@csindy.com.)

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