Rating: PG-13 for adult situations, intensity
Run Time: 2 hours, 9 minutes
Director Ron Howard’s relentlessly sunny direction is an unusual fit for this often fascinating portrayal of one of our century’s truly great math minds.
John Forbes Nash, Jr. (Russell Crowe) is a handsome, eccentric mathematician and Princeton graduate student when he publishes a paper that flies in the face of one hundred and fifty years of economic theory. That discovery - game theory: the mathematics of competition - opens up the doors for Nash to one of the country’s elite think-tanks, MIT, and a coveted research and teaching position.
Nash is a restless instructor, and yearns to play a role in the challenging, post-World War II Cold War conflict. His dream is realized when he’s approached by a shadowy agent (Ed Harris) who hires him on the spot as a top-secret enemy code breaker. Busy moving back and forth between tutoring and his covert government assignment, Nash finds the time to fall for gorgeous physics student Alicia Larde (Jennifer Connelly). Nash and Alicia marry, but the clandestine nature of his work drives a wedge into their relationship. Nash’s obsession with the heady demands of mathematical theory and the confidentiality of his project begin to blur into a state of uncontrollable delusion that ultimately takes him down.
Nash’s story is one that runs the full gamut of emotions – frustration, elation, poignancy, and fear. Under Howard’s direction, nothing is subtle and all sentiment is composed with maximum manipulation. The underlying tone of Nash’s struggle to triumph over the odds is bordering on the cheery, and not in keeping with the gravity of his reality. In the hands of a David Fincher (“Fight Club”) or Darren Aronofsky (“Requiem for a Dream”) this would have resonated a lot more darkly.
Crowe gives one hundred percent as Nash, proving once again that he’s found his niche in performing arts. His West Virginian accent plays subtle hide-and-seek throughout the film, but his cognitive reveries and measured descent into crushing paranoia is extremely convincing. Connelly is breathtaking, giving a credible performance as the woman who will stand by her man through thick and thin.
There are Oscars in Ron Howard’s future - the Academy typically rewards hyped-up emotion and triumphs over adversity. Pass out the little gold statues with abandon – I’ll be applauding with only mild reservations.