Movie Project #43: A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The 50 Movies Project: 2013 Edition

In what has become an annual tradition, I have decided to embark in a third round of the 50 Movies Project. The premise is simple — I have put together a list of 50 movies that I feel I absolutely must see in order to continue my progression as a film lover. With so many films to see, it’s easy to get off track and forget about some of the essentials. This is my way of making sure I watch those that have been on my “must see” list for too long.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

A Beautiful Mind [2001]
Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Akiva Goldsman, Sylvia Nasar (book)
Country: USA
Genre: Biography/Drama
Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany
Running Time: 135 minutes

(This post contains spoilers.)

The evolution of John Nash (Russell Crowe) in A Beautiful Mind is nothing short of remarkable.

In 1947, as a graduate student at Princeton University, Nash is a bold, cocky young man. He is confident in his mathematical talent, but his social skills are lacking. A flamboyant roommate, Charles Herman (Paul Bettany), helps bring him out of his shell, and eventually he fits in with a new circle of friends.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

Nash’s personal growth is even more successful after college, as he gets a job as a professor at MIT, and he begins dating (and later marries) one of his very attractive students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly). And just as he starts to grow tired of his day-to-day work, he gets a top-secret offer from a high-ranking Pentagon official, William Parcher (Ed Harris). Nash is confidentially hired on as a codebreaker, with his assignment being to find and decode hidden messages that the Russians placed into newspapers and magazines.

There’s just one problem. Parcher isn’t real.

Nash suffers from schizophrenia, and he is constantly imagining people and situations that don’t exist. Because he believes he is part of a classified government assignment, he becomes increasingly paranoid that the Russians are after him, and this begins to greatly impact his personal and professional life. Eventually, he is taken in by a psychiatrist, Dr. Rosen (Christopher Plummer), though the treatment at this time was only shock therapy.

A Beautiful Mind [2001]

The middle years of Nash’s life finds him struggling with his mental illness, unable to take care of his young son and also unable to work. The film’s big Hollywood moment arrives later on when Nash begins visiting MIT daily, eventually coming to terms with his hallucinations and getting his job back as a result. And, to make his story even more inspirational, the man earns a Nobel Peace Prize.

It’s a beautiful story, even if it does get a bit too schmaltzy at times. Russell Crowe does a phenomenal job as the very real (and still alive) Nash, and his mental illness is treated tactfully. Some bits of Nash’s actual life aren’t mentioned in the film, such as his bisexuality and his child out of wedlock, but director Ron Howard has claimed that this is not meant to be a literal representation. The rest of the performances, particularly that of Connelly and Harris, are excellent, and the acting as a whole helps elevate this film.

8/10

Movie Project #16: The Truman Show [1998]

Due to the surprising success of my initial Movies Project, I decided to do a part two for 2012. This time around I put a greater emphasis on directors I am not familiar with, but I also tried to compile a mix of different genres and eras. This will be an ongoing project with the finish date being sometime this year.

The Truman Show [1998]

The Truman Show [1998]
Director: Peter Weir
Genre: Comedy/Drama/Sci-Fi
Starring: Jim Carrey, Ed Harris and Laura Linney
Runtime: 103 minutes

I’m not sure what took me so long to finally see The Truman Show. Maybe it was because I thought it would be too similar to Edtv, a likeminded film I remember seeing around that time period (though now I honestly don’t remember much about it). Perhaps it was because I had reservations about Jim Carrey in this type of role. Whatever the case, I am glad that I included this in my new project and finally seeked it out.

Jim Carrey stars as Truman Burbank, a man who is unknowingly under surveillance 24/7, the star of a TV show he knows nothing about. He has been filmed since the day he was born, set up in an artificial world built under the watchful eye of its creator, Christof (Ed Harris). The life designed for Truman is not unlike what you would find in Suburbia, U.S.A.: he has a loving wife, Meryl (Laura Linney), a stable desk job, and a best friend (Noah Emmerich) to drink beer with. Every detail has been thought out, and a large number of viewers watch his show every day.

The Truman Show [1998]

Things begin to go awry when Truman suspects something is off with the town he lives in. Strange happenings occur on the 30th year of the show. A falling spotlight from the artificial constellation above nearly hits him on his way to work. Later, his car radio picks up a strange feed from the show’s crew, and Truman hears them describing his actions in real time. The kicker, however, is when Truman sees his allegedly dead father on the street dressed as a homeless man. Before he gets the chance to talk with his “father”, the man is whisked away on a bus by the powers to be.

Now questioning just what the hell is going on, Truman becomes determined to leave his town and see what life is like outside of Seahaven.

The story sets itself up as a drama, but also as a sneaky satire that lends way to some amusing moments. There are several funny jabs at in-show advertising. Characters make sure to show product logos at all times, and occasionally make the sales pitch to go along with them. Even Truman’s wife is in on the act.

Jim Carrey was given a chance to show off his dramatic acting chops in this movie, and he passes the test with flying colors. Right from the start, Truman is easily likable as Carrey injects his natural charisma into the character without going overboard. He still has his funny moments, but they are much more subdued (when compared to, say, The Mask or Ace Ventura).

The Truman Show [1998]

I was also impressed with the rest of the cast, a laundry list of strong names that add quite a bit to the film even in small roles. Laura Linney and Ed Harris are terrific, but the pleasant surprises of seeing Natascha McElhone (as Truman’s forbidden love interest), Paul Giamatti (a control room director) and Peter Krause (Truman’s boss at work), among others, were great as well.

In a way, The Truman Show was a bit of foreshadowing for something that would happen the year after its release: the debut of CBS’s voyeuristic TV show, Big Brother. Looking back now, the movie is even more relevant today with the unfortunate rise in popularity of these so-called “reality TV” shows. Hell, the film even has its own psychological delusion titled “The Truman Show Syndrome“.

I quite enjoyed The Truman Show, and I am happy that I saw it for the first time in 2012 with several years perspective. It’s not a perfect film — there are some ideas that I would have loved to have seen elaborated — but its sharp satire and strong cast really hit the spot for me.

8/10