It doesn't sound like a film that would go over well in a pitch meeting: a drama about a troubled mathmatics genius with little in the way of social skills, but high intelligence and a gift for numbers. However, Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer saw cinematic potential in Sylvia Nassar's biography of John Forbes Nash and - I'm glad they did. Bringing in actor Russell Crowe, actress Jennifer Connelly and a high-end crew, including brilliant cinematographer Roger Deakins ("Man Who Wasn't There"), the final film is a well-crafted, engaging and enjoyable piece that's genuinely moving.
The film stars Russell Crowe as John Forbes Nash. The role is a chance for Crowe to show off that he's capable of a subtle, quiet performance (such as he showed in Michael Mann's largely-unseen "The Insider") as much as he's capable of "Gladiator"'s fierce effort. The film opens in 1947, as Nash has difficulty offering his intelligence at Princeton, showing flashes of brilliance, but seeking to show a theory that remains at the tip of his mind. One night, he strikes upon an idea about economics that is groundbreaking and gains him fame.
Years later, Nash is teaching at MIT and, on the side, working for the government as one of the best codebreakers that the they have ever seen. Eventually, he finds himself persued by Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), a warm and bright student who sees something in Nash that others don't in the often-disliked professor. The two fall for one another and marry, but then things start to turn tragic: it becomes more and more apparent that Nash is having hallucinations and other mental troubles. When he eventually sees a doctor, he's told that he's suffering from a very severe case of schizophrenia. The question becomes - what has been real and what has not?
The film could have come up lacking in several regards, but sidesteps each of the possible areas it could have failed in. Akiva Goldsman, largely remembered from his strongly disliked screenplays for "Lost in Space" and "Batman and Robin", keeps the screenplay from becoming manipulative. While some may be displeased that more details aren't offered about Nash's theories, the film still conveys Nash and his life quite well. Crowe's performance ranks as one of the best that he's ever offered, portraying Nash's illness, sadness and occasional dark humor in a completely convincing and effective manner.
While the mention of Jennifer Connelly might have gotten the response "Career Opportunities" not that long ago, she has really become one of the finest actresses of our time. While classically beautiful, Connelly's performances add heart, depth and intelligence to her characters. In Alicia, Connelly has created a complex character who is essentially a good, caring person who will stand by her husband even when he's locking his door or locking her out emotionally. The film also has a top-notch supporting cast, including Ed Harris as the government agent overlooking Nash's work and Paul Bettany as Nash's college roommate who continues helping him even when college has ended.
The film could also have been turned a little too melodramatic by Howard, who thankfully doesn't go that route, instead realizing that the performances are more than moving enough on their own - both Crowe and Connelly have scenes that are genuinely heartbreaking. The film also, as one might expect from a larger-budget project, looks elegant and beautiful. While Roger Deakins was rightly nominated for his dazzling black and white photography in "The Man Who Wasn't There" last year, his effort in "A Beautiful Mind" is deserving of praise as well. James Horner, whose scores have either been highly regarded or criticized as being too manipulative in the past, offers music here that often manages to heighten the emotion and not underline it or become intrusive. It's a memorable effort from the famed composer.
The film really deserves high praise for all involved. Operating equally well as both a heartwarming love story and a triumph of the human spirit, "A Beautiful Mind" is beautiful, indeed.
VIDEO: "A Beautiful Mind" is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen by Universal. As mentioned previously, the film is often visually striking, with gorgeous locations and attractive cinematography. Universal's presentation is often a stellar one, but there are some little problems along the way that I found noticable. Sharpness and detail are certainly a positive, as the picture offered very nice depth to the image and appeared well-defined at all times.
A few faults appeared here and there: some minimal edge enhancement was spotted in a couple of scenes - while noticable, I didn't find it terribly distracting. There was little else to worry about: the picture showed some very minor grain in a few scenes, but nothing in the way of print flaws. No pixelation or other problems were seen. The film's warm color palette looked consistently crisp and well-saturated throughout, with no smearing. Overall, this is a fine presentation with very few concerns.
SOUND: "A Beautiful Mind" is presented by Universal only in Dolby Digital 5.1. Given that Universal has been one of the biggest supporters of DTS, even offering it on smaller titles, it comes as a bit unexpected that that option isn't available again here. Yet, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is certainly still pleasing and a satisfactory - if rather subdued - experience. Surrounds come to life with sound effects during a couple of sequences, but otherwise, most of the film's sound takes place within the front speakers. James Horner's score is the one element that is employed by the surrounds. Dialogue remained clear and crisp throughout the film.
MENUS: Both discs provide elegant and beautifully animated main menus that use scenes from the movie in a simple, appropriate fashion.
EXTRAS: Universal has offered a wealth of supplements on this Special Edition - the first disc provides two commentaries and deleted scenes, while the second disc provides several well-produced featurettes. Most of the featurettes are around 5-10 minutes each, with the exception of "Inside A Beautiful Mind", which is about 30 minutes.
Commentaries: Two commentaries are provided along with the feature on disc one: director Ron Howard provides one feature-length track, while writer Akiva Goldsman discusses the film on the other track. I was somewhat dismayed to find that I thought neither track was terribly interesting. Goldsman's commentary provides some informative moments about his involvement with the project and his thoughts on story and character, but much of the track seemed to discuss what was currently going on in the story. Howard's track is a bit more general and a bit more detailed about what went on in the production, but it's also got a number of small pauses of silence. Certainly, neither offers a bad commentary and, as I browsed through both tracks, there was some good insight and information to be found. However, I often thought that both together on one track, bouncing ideas off each other, would have been better.
Deleted Scenes: There are eightteen deleted scenes offered in this section, which run for a total of a little over 25 minutes. The section comes with an audio introduction by director Ron Howard as well as optional commentary from Howard for the scenes. There are certainly some good or great scenes contained within which were likely deleted due to time.
A Beautiful Partnership: This is a short featurette focusing on director Ron Howard and producer Brian Grazer, who also head Imagine Entertainment. While there's a lot of heavy praise for one another (to translate some areas of the featurette: "You're good. No, you're good.") All kidding aside, there is some insight and information given on how the two have worked together over many years, but there's also not a whole lot of depth or discussion of the producer/director relationship and how that functions, which would have been interesting.
Development Of The Screenplay: This is a featurette that discusses screenwriter Akiva Goldsman's participation in the film, from pushing to get the job to developing the story and scenes. I enjoyed this featurette quite a bit - there isn't a lot of basic story discussion or other promotional elements - it's just a good, step-by-step look at how this film was written.
Meeting John Nash: Director Ron Howard discusses what it was like to meet the real John Nash on this short featurette. There is some footage included of Nash talking about his theories, as well. Although this is a fairly short piece, Howard does a very nice job of giving the viewer an idea of who Nash is and what he is doing now.
Accepting the Nobel Prize: This is a clip of Nash accepting the Nobel Prize in 1994.
Casting Russell Crowe/Jennifer Connelly: As with the "Development of the Screenplay" featurette, there is little fluff here. This is mostly a to-the-point look at the casting stage of the movie and feelings from Howard as to the serious importance of trying to choose the correct person for the role. Howard also gives insight into what it is like working with both his leads (although Grazer says that he was impressed with Connelly's performance in "Requiem of a Dream", when it's "Requiem For A Dream", but oh well.)
Age Progression: This is a short featurette that offers an interview with the producer & director, as well as the film's make-up artist, who talk about advancing the age of the characters throughout the movie and trying to convincingly do so via make-up and other physical effects. Some tests are also shown here.
Storyboard Comparisons: Starting off with a short introduction by Howard on the role that storyboards play in his productions, we are then presented with the option to view split-screen storyboard-to-scene comparisons for three scenes and two deleted scenes.
Creating the Visual Effects: Director Howard and FX supervisor Kevin Mack discuss the film's superb, subtle visual effects and how they were created. There are also some step-by-step examples of how the effects were done.
Scoring the Film: This featurette discusses composer James Horner's involvement and creation of the film's score.
Inside "A Beautiful Mind": This is a 30-minute documentary that is fairly decent, but doesn't provide as much interest as the other featurettes included. A lot of time is spent discussing the story which we've just seen or some general thoughts on the production. While this may be worthwhile viewing once, I don't think it has a great deal of repeat-viewing interest.
Academy Awards: This section features the Best Picture speech from Ron Howard and Brian Grazer and the backstage speeches from Howard (best director), Connelly (best actress) and Goldsman (best screenplay).
Also: Rounding out disc two are: the trailer, Now Showing (a section with trailers and sneak peaks of supplements for "Apollo 13", "Patch Adams", "K-Pax" and "Family Man"), soundtrack promo and information on mental health organizations. Cast/crew bios, production notes and Universal's new DVD-ROM "Total Axess" internet-based area (which offers additional behind-the-scenes footage, interviews and other information about the movie) are also included on Disc One.
Final Thoughts: While I'm not quite sure if "A Beautiful Mind" should have won the Best Picture Oscar, I really think it's certainly one of the best films released last year. The performances from Connelly, Crowe and many members of the supporting cast are terrific and the film is wonderfully moving and powerful without being manipulative or forced. Universal has provided a stellar 2-DVD edition with good audio and video, as well as a fine amount of quality supplements. Highly recommended.