It is rare that a film manages to combine a decent script, solid acting, great direction, believability, and a decent transfer to DVD. Most releases manage to score well in one or two categories, while failing miserably in the others. Ron Howard's A Beautiful Mind manages to get it right in almost every category, with only one or two minor failings that will be discussed shortly. A Beautiful Mind hits the stores as a two-disc "Awards Edition" and represents good value.
A Beautiful Mind is the life story of respected Nobel Prize for Economics winner, John Forbes Nash (Russell Crowe). The film opens with Nash already a student at Princeton, and follows his remarkable story up to the presentation of his Nobel Prize in 1994. There are two rather remarkable things about Nash, his incredible intellect and grasp of mathematics, and his long-term battle with schizophrenia.
One of Nash's greatest achievements was the development of his economic equilibrium (Game Theory) in 1948 that forever changed the way in which world economics is studied, even if his theory was largely ignored by economists. The early part of the film is devoted to establishing Nash's character, and introducing other significant players. The pace is steady, and gives no indication of the drama that will unfold in the second half.
In the days that follow his graduation from Princeton, Nash sets up a small business with fellow graduates. Shortly after, a secretive US Defense representative, wanting him to help decode intercepted messages, approaches him. Being a patriot, Nash naturally does his duty, but things start to get decidedly dangerous the more he uncovers. His new wife Alicia (Jennifer Connelly), at first unaware of her husband's work, becomes increasingly more fearful, and questioning as the truth is slowly revealed.
Nash's schizophrenia is a constant, life-long illness that both plagues his thoughts, and in a strange way brings him comfort and support. To say more would ruin the experience, but if you are expecting a movie about a paranoid schizophrenic locked in an institution for others to study, or even laugh at, you will be disappointed. This film treats schizophrenia for what it is, an illness that many people live with, and thankfully, with help and increased understanding, now manage. With the large number of people that supposedly suffer some sort of mental illness, it is refreshing to see a film treat the subject with some genuine understanding.
As mentioned, there is solid acting, a great screenplay based on Sylvia Nasar's biography on John Nash, A Beautiful Mind, some clever yet subtle special effects, great makeup and a genuinely interesting story. One of the strengths of the film is the various points at which viewers may begin to work out what is really happening in Nash's worlds, but even then most of these points are blurred. The few annoyances include Ron Howard's over-romanticising of the story, but as he has had great success with this style of storytelling, I can see why he would be reluctant to change. The other annoyance is that the film is only loosely based on the life of John Nash, and as such the dramatisation does not touch on other aspects of his past. These include his dalliances into homosexuality, his divorce and subsequent remarriage to Alicia, his anti-Semetic feelings and his violent temper. Nasar's biography includes these aspects of his life, and gives added meaning to the title, A Beautiful Mind.
Although dramatised and romanticised, A Beautiful Mind is still a solid film, with fine performances from the leads and supporting cast members including Ed Harris and Christopher Plummer. The film won several key Oscars in 2002 including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actress and Best Screenplay. Crowe earned a Best Actor nomination, and his being overlooked is still a topic of discussion. Judge for yourself with this DVD that includes numerous extras and a great transfer.
This is basically a very good transfer, with only a few infrequent faults. A Beautiful Mind is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is 16x9 enhanced. The overall image is very sharp and detailed. Colours are very accurate and natural, with some of the earlier shots displaying some colour muting to help age the look of the film, as it begins in the 1940s. There is no evidence of any colour problems such as bleeding or chroma noise, but you would not expect problems of this nature in such recent material.
Black levels are deep and constant, and shadow detail is very good. There are a very few scenes that display some minor grain, but these are easily overlooked. Aliasing is very minimal, though there are a few scenes where it could have been a problem. Film artefacts likewise are kept to a minimum and viewers will be hard pressed to find them unless specifically looking.
Overall, this is a great transfer, with a layer change placed between scenes at 68:48, and while it's obvious, it could have been far worse.
This is a very solid and often subtle Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track. Most sound comes from the front speakers, with most dialogue placed in the centre. Rear channels are used for ambient sounds and are most effective in the outdoor scenes. There are one or two instances where sound is placed in the rear speakers that doesn't seem quite right, but mostly this is not a problem. There is also some distinct separation of the audio across the front speakers that occasionally sounds a little overdone, such as the noise of closing doors.
Low level sounds are mostly limited to the fine musical score. The music is evenly placed around the room, and fills up the space nicely.
There are no problems with synchronisation or clarity. Being a dialogue driven film, this is not the DVD you will use to convince the skeptical to switch to DVD, yet it makes for a great listening experience.
The Turkish Dolby Digital 5.1 audio also sounds fine, and the English subtitles differ only slightly from the spoken word, but any differences are very minor and irrelevant.