"We know that the road to freedom has always been stalked by death." ---HL Staff that went to Rome---

*****THE REEL DEAL: Reviewz from the Street*****

BIASES: mid 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare


MOVIE BIASES: Crowe is definitely the man, but who is this Nash fella?
MAJOR PLAYERS: Russell Crowe (Gladiator), Jennifer Connelly (Higher Learning), screenwriter Akiva Goldsman (A Time to Kill), and director Ron Howard (The Grinch).

I find it wholly ironic that one of the big Hollywood movies this season centers on a man in search of "a truly original idea." The thing about "A Beautiful Mind" is that it's original in some ways yet slightly formulaic in others. Backed by a powerhouse performance and a sweetly nuanced script, "A Beautiful Mind," despite some minor flaws, definitely has a beautiful heart.

John Nash (Crowe) is a nerdy, insular West Virginia scholarship kid at Princeton University in the late '40s who skips his doctoral classes in search of "a truly original idea." After his breakthrough successfully flies in the face of years of mathematical and economic theory, Nash, and his work, garners the attention of the Department of Defense during the height of the Red Scare. At the same time, social idiot Nash somehow manages to squire the lovely, loyal, and somewhat odd grad student Alicia (Connelly), who turns out to be his staunchest supporter in his darkest hours. Once tensions on his job escalate, Nash suffers a break from reality, plunging into a schizophrenia so real and delusional, it's hard to tell the difference from reality and fantasy.

"A Beautiful Mind" is one of those films that excels only because of the performances within it. Paul Bettany (A Knight's Tale) shines as Nash's hard-living yet sincere roommate, Charles while Ed Harris is strong as usual portraying a hard-charging D.O.D. wonk. Howard has elicited perhaps the performance of Jennifer Connelly's career in a role that, essentially, is a glorified girlfriend role. The unwavering love and loyalty of Alicia Nash, as portrayed by Connelly in this movie, is a primer for anyone who supports someone with illness.

And then there's Crowe. I don't know why I am still so amazed by his ability to absolutely disappear within his roles but it astounds me every time. For a guy many women proclaim to be a hunk, Crowe effectively puts forward the most convincing, stuttering portrait of mental brilliance and social ineptitude that I've seen in some time. His work is a triumph, a revelation, and now, not so much a revelation. The man is just GOOD. He is so good, he almost elevates this movie from the conventions of its genre, that of a glossy, disease of the week docudrama. An Oscar nomination is sure to be in the cards for Crowe.

Ron Howard pulls off the most emotional rich directing of his career, guided by Akiva Goldsman's bang-up script, but eventually falls short due to the limitations of the format. If there ever was a docudrama on schizophrenia that could be moving and complex, this is the one. But while "A Beautiful Mind" has its heart in the right place, its head - like its conflicted, delusional subject - is confined by the boundaries of its own limitations.

@ REEL (ONE REEL) If you can't sneak in, don't go in.

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