A Beautiful Mind (12)
NOMINATED for his third Oscar in a row for his astounding portrayal of a schizophrenic maths genius in A Beautiful Mind, man-of-the-moment Russell Crowe looks set to grab his second best actor gong in as many years if the pundits are anything to go by.
Perhaps it’s something to do with his chameleon quality; most likely it’s more to do with Hollywood’s perennial failure to grasp that actors actually prefer to act rather than give the same performance over and over a la Bruce Willis.
Whatever it is, no-one can deny that Crowe is mesmerising as John Forbes Nash in director Ron Howard and scriptwriter Akiva Goldsman’s sanitised and diluted version of his life story.
In Hollywood’s version of Nash our hero is a testy, intemperate, very damaged but ultimately redeemed individual whose work for the US Government during the freezing Cold War years of the 1950s puts him at the very top of a long list of super patriots.
Yet in reality Nash was a cruel, acid-tongued bisexual whose marriage and child helped disguise his secret liaison with another woman with whom he also fathered a son. None of this, of course, is apparent in Howard’s movie – a constant failing in the modern Hollywood mainstream.
The basis of the story rests on Nash’s descent into paranoid schizophrenia and his journey towards mental disintegration is documented via a progressive series of vignettes involving Government conspiracies, shady agents from sinister organisations (Ed Harris), odd friends and extreme behaviour.
Crowe is, as one might expect, utterly compelling as the anti-hero at the core of the tale. In other, less skilful, hands this sort of characterisation might be swamped by affectation; in Crowe’s it becomes a tour-de-force – gripping, compelling and, at times, extremely unsettling.
He completely leaves behind the macho posturing of Gladiator and Proof of Life, returning instead to the type of intensity that marked out his performance in The Insider two years ago. He twitches, tics and gibbers his way through Nash’s life, at times veering perilously close to caricature – the hallucinating nutjob as Hollywood freakshow – but always reining back at the last minute.
Crowe displays all the energy and mercurial fizz of a young Richard Burton. He’s miles above Hollywood’s best, delivering a performance that is at once multi-layered and, above all, courageous.
Yet there is something about the superficiality of it all that stinks. Admittedly a movie encompassing every nuance of Nash’s condition, his relationships and his life would be impossible, but paring down his story to a series of overtly sympathetic interlinked vignettes does little justice to the truth.
Other performances, specifically Jennifer Connolly as Nash’s long-suffering wife, Harris as the government ‘spook’ and Paul Bettany as a free-wheeling pal are excellent though none can compete with Crowe as he takes Nash from his 30s to old age.
The acting may be epic but the film, I feel, will not fare as well. History will tell the truth and, while Crowe’s work will last, the film may not. As the years wear on, we may wonder what all the fuss was about.