In 1999, it was The Insider. In 2000, it was Gladiator. And in 2001, Russel Crowe is sure to get a nomination for A Beautiful Mind, a creative retelling of Nobel Prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr.
With exception to Proof of Life, which was a straight-by-the-numbers kind of movie, Crowe continues to amaze me with both his choice of movies and his performances. While I think he deserved a trophy more for The Insider than Gladiator, by far, he is time and time again proving that he is one of the best actors out there, and one of the most profitable. Forbes is an actor's dream; he's an eccentric genius, he has a family, he works for the government, and he's also schizophrenic. With very few exceptions, an actor has to be crazy to turn down the role of a crazy man. What is exceptional about Crowe is that he is able to show that this man is definitely delusional and crazy without driving away the audience, without making the audience turn on him. You feel a real sadness for him and the people around him, even his make believe friends. Not many actors can pull something off, but Crowe does it with ease. When the movie is not dealing with schizophrenia, Crowe is still a pleasure to watch. He's funny in a strange kind of way, he's emotional, and he's definitely straightforward. While I will still vote for Will Smith as Best Actor of the Year, Russel Crowe comes in a close second (and possibly only because he won last year).
In the supporting category, Jennifer Connelly does a marvelous job as Forbes' loving wife. Connelly, who has had large roles in Dark City and Requiem for a Dream, really hits mainstream here, but also pulls off the best performance of her career. Like Crowe, the audience really feels for her character, because she loves the man yet has to put up with so much grief and anguish. Time and time again, Connelly expresses her frustration and love, many times while not even opening her mouth. That is a true actress.
As for Ed Harris, he really doesn't have a large enough role to be praised or criticized in any sense.
As movies go, A Beautiful Mind is a beautiful thing to watch. Directed by Ron Howard (Apollo 13), the movie is dramatic, funny, and fast-paced, which is surprising considering that this is technically a biography. A Beautiful Mind is funny in the way that Good Will Hunting is funny, in that it throws a lot of jokes in there while dealing with serious material. Some of the funniest moments come after Forbes has accepted the fact that he is crazy and he makes fun of himself for it. The first half of the movie races along, as it deals out a fair share of suspense. The twist that comes halfway through is sort of obvious if you know that Forbes is delusional, but at the same time you do not know the extent of his hallucinations, and the results are surprising.
A Beautiful Mind is easily one of the best pictures of the year. It is well acted, well written, well directed. It is entertaining and funny, serious and sad. It is everything you want it to be.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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