Monday, 20 April 2009

Movie Review - A Beautiful Mind

When I wrote my Top Ten Films of All Time list, I decided (for once) to stick to the rules and actually only have ten films in it. (Okay I did break it by mentioning a couple of trilogies inside the top ten and having some honourable mentions outside the top ten… well did you really expect me to exactingly abide to the rules?!?) Despite this insanely strict limitation, A Beautiful Mind was always going to be in my top ten.

For once, the plot benefits by being based on a true story – that of Nobel Prize-winning mathematician John Nash. While mathematics may not be the most interesting of subjects to most people, Nash’s battle with paranoid schizophrenia is one of the most completely compelling stories ever portrayed on the big screen. IT has everything – excitement, suspense, romance (genuine romance, not of the “let’s have a love interest for the sake of it” variety), intrigue, heartbreak, well… everything. (Unless… if your idea of a great film is lots of violence, swearing, jokes about body parts, and naked bodies, you might as well stop reading now… but then you probably realised that…)

I’m not going to say anything more about the plot because you really should see this movie for the first time not knowing too much about it. Then you should watch it again a week or two later (this is one of the few films I actually went to see twice at the cinema, and I would have gone a third time if I hadn’t run out of money!). It’s the second time you watch it that you realise just how brilliant the film is – when you know which parts are real and which parts are his mind’s creation, they are completely separate, whereas the first time the transitions between fact and fiction are seamless. Unlike some films though, knowing what happens doesn’t spoil watching it in the least. In fact, the plot takes on new shades of meaning each subsequent time you watch the film.

Russell Crowe (John Nash) is absolutely superb – I consider this to be one of the best performances by any actor in any role, ever. He doesn’t play the part of John Nash, be becomes John Nash, and everything he does or says is utterly convincing. This was the first film I saw Paul Bettany (Martin) in, and I immediately became a fan. Not only is his performance excellent in its own right, but it compliments Crowe’s performance splendidly. Jennifer Conolly’s performance is beautifully understated and impassioned without being over the top or pathetic. Chistopher Plummer also features in a relatively minor part (a Doctor) and brings the gravity to it that you would expect of him. Also good as Sol (one of Nash’s assistants) is Adam Goldbreg, Ed Harris excels as William Parcher… (you’ll have to find out for yourself who he is), and Josh Lucas who is on top form as his arch-rival Martin Hansen .

The plot is fantastic, nothing feels contrived, and it has so many twists and turns that you don’t always quite know what’s happening the first time you watch it, and it remains interesting however many times you see it. The pacing is perfect too, at no time seeming to drag at all. The special effects are convincing when used and the sets are amazingly good. Considering I don’t like minimalist music (though perhaps minimalist wouldn’t be the right term to describe the music in A Beautiful Mind), the composer (James Horner) manages to make the repeated use of three chords unbelievably dramatic and moving. Cinematographic techniques are used to the full to enhance the mood and atmosphere of this film, which somehow manages to be bleak and yet hopeful at the same time. The final scene is one of the most powerfully moving I have ever seen, doubtless having more impact because it’s a situation that occurred in real life. (Actually there are at least two other scenes that are almost as moving, both of which also presumably happened in real life.)
It’s hard to say what exactly impressed me most, with so many outstanding aspects of the film to choose from, but I guess if I had to choose it would be Crowe’s performance. Of course, if John Nash hadn’t been so amazing in the first place, there wouldn’t have been a film at all… so maybe what impressed me more than anything was Nash himself (who was involved with the film as an advisor). His courage is praiseworthy not only in what he actually achieved but in letting this film be made, which must have been a difficult decision and brought back many painful memories for him.

What more can I say? I’ve run out of superlatives. This is an amazing film that you really should watch. However, it’s more than just a good film – it’s one of the very few movies I’ve seen that can actually affect the way you look at life and, in particular, people with health problems – in this case, mental health. It’s probably done more to raise public awareness of psychiatric disorders than anything else in recent years, and while positive, it offers no fairy-tale ending or miracle solution. It actually transcends the excellent – A Beautiful Mind enters the realm of the sublime.

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