I’m house sitting at a friend’s with Netflix at the moment, so I decided to watch this movie. It’s one of those staples that seems to regularly pop up on free-to-air TV, and I swear I’ve seen the same scene of John Nash (Russell Crowe) trying to chat up a pretty girl at the bar with disastrous results at least three times, but for whatever reasons I just never got around to finishing the movie.
Directed by Ron Howard, the film is a biopic inspired by the life of John Nash, a Princeton University mathematician who distinguished himself early in his career with a genius theoretical breakthrough, before succumbing to full-blown paranoid schizophrenia after getting involved into code-breaking work for the government. By his own admission, Nash doesn’t like people much and people don’t like him either, and he’s basically another entry in the long cinematic tradition of difficult geniuses – socially awkward, arrogant, extremely blunt, with zero regard for social graces. Unlike many of them he ends up meeting a woman who loves him as he is (Jennifer Connelly), and their relationship is a major focus in the second half of the film, as Nash struggles with his mental affliction.
The film focuses on the melodrama in Nash’s life more than his mathematical achievements, which is just as well I guess since the realm of advanced math and economics is probably inaccessible to us mere mortals. The film tries hard to break down and simplify some of it, and visually represent Nash’s obsession with patterns and codes, some of which are more successful than others. Even when they’re gimmicky though, the “character analyses stuff and comes to conclusions” sequences are rather fun to watch.
If nothing else, the film was a nostalgia trip back to the times before Russell Crowe ruined Les Mis with his horrible singing and his hotness was a discussion topic on Sex and the City. Crowe’s onscreen intensity back then was something else, though to be honest I haven’t warmed up to his performance here immediately – at first it felt too much like a collection of calculated ticks and altogether too much Acting. Likewise, for the first half or so the film felt like a solid but unexceptional TV movie of the week – but somehow both it and Crowe’s performance won me over in the end and I was genuinely moved by Nash’s story, while being aware all the time how corny and manipulative the whole thing is.
Jennifer Connelly won an Academy Award for her turn, in a performance not unlike Alicia Vikander’s in The Danish Girl. Oscar voters must have a thing for warm, supportive wife roles. As Nash’s patient wife Alicia, Connelly is luminous and appealing, and just about saves her character from being a beautiful blank. The film pays a lip service to Alicia’s intelligence earlier in the film, when she meets Nash as a student in his class, but the movie is ultimately interested in his mind. Paul Bettany and Ed Harris are also enjoyable in their roles as Nash’s university roommate and a sinister government official, respectively.