A Beautiful Mind (2001)

A Beautiful Mind falls into one of those categories on my list of things to see that most people I know have often let out an exasperated “Really?? You haven’t seen this yet??” when they find out it’s even ON my list (not dissimilar to that period of nearly seven years before I finally saw American Beauty). Unlike Beauty, however, I was sadly not totally floored by A Beautiful Mind. Please refrain from tomato throwing and torch-and-pitch-fork-chasing until the concluding remarks of this post. Thank you.

All in all, it’s a perfectly good movie. As a whole, it’s good. It’s not the sum of its parts that make it wonderful, but rather, unfortunately, it’s parts as separate entities that give it strength. That being said, it’s strongest points are the cast members, each and every one of them. From bit parts of the nearly Shakespearean buffoon’s Sol and Bender (Adam Goldberg and Anthony Rapp respectively) as well as Charles (played by the always stupendous, in my mind, Paul Bettany), to the principle cast, the acting is win after win, non-stop.

Jennifer Connelly is a force of nature, who without a doubt deserved not only her Oscar nom that year, but her win as well (and it was a pretty solid year for nominations). Her performance is powerful, and at times surprisingly raw and vulnerable, with all the necessary nuances of a woman trapped in a life of her own making. Her internal struggle bubbles below the surface only to erupt in a heartbreaking moment of near-catharsis that left me almost speechless. I loved her in this, completely.

Russell Crowe gives a rather brilliant performance. He wasn’t so much playing the part as much as he became the part, in such a deeply thorough way that you forget you’re watching a celebrity: this is what acting should be. He melted into the character, became him, in a way that the best character actors earn their bread and butter. And yet, Crowe is, for all intents and purposes, very much so not a character actor. Seldom do I not enjoy one of his performances, but I’m still very aware that he is himself playing a part. I very easily forgot the man behind the role here. From the subtlety of his physical ticks at the beginning, to the heartbreaking transformation midway, he created a thorough and elegantly crafted character.

Now what detracts from this so far seemingly rave review of the film is, I have to say, the writing. What starts out as an almost Dead Poets Society-esque introduction, with warm and fuzzies tied in with character development, turns into a somewhat reaching, near espionage story, and concludes with a sappy, sentimental tale of triumph of the will. It felt a little schlocky to me by the films’ end, I have to say. It felt contrived, almost forced, and as a result dishonest.

I don’t really feel like I came away with a wonderful cinematic experience from this film, save for the acting. The direction was quite good, better at some points than others, but nothing I would have been floored by (Sorry, Ron … not that he’ll ever read this). And, again, the writing left me fairly consistently disappointed. But, at the end of it all, I enjoyed it. Other than my raving about the performances I guess that’s about all I can say.

This post was originally published on my tumblr on November 21, 2011.