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Script Review: Moriarty's Got A BEAUTIFUL MIND!! REVISED!!

Published at: April 21, 2001, 5:05 p.m. CST

Hey, everyone. "Moriarty" here with some Rumblings From The Lab.

THE FOLLOWING REVIEW HAS BEEN AMENDED SINCE IT FIRST APPEARED. SOME STORY MATERIAL HAS BEEN DELETED. AS A RESULT, TALK BACKS ABOUT THAT MATERIAL HAVE ALSO BEEN DELETED. WE APOLOGIZE IF THIS HAPPENED TO YOU, BUT IT WASN'T PERSONAL. THANKS.

Okay... so now I’ve reviewed the script for OCEAN’S 11, the big Warner Bros. Christmas movie, coming out on December 14. What’s the competition that day? Adam Sandler’s animated film 8 CRAZY NIGHTS is opening that day. The only other big release pencilled in is Ron Howard’s A BEAUTIFUL MIND, starring Russell Crowe. I am confident OCEAN’S 11 is going to obliterate anything else in the market at that moment, but I decided to read Akiva Goldsman’s script for the film out of curiousity.

I’ll admit. The concept didn’t do much for me when I first heard about it. A math genius in the ‘40s overcomes schizophrenia to win the Nobel Prize. Sounded like SHINE with chalkboards instead of pianos. I didn’t read Sylvia Nassar’s acclaimed biography of John Forbes Nash, Jr. when it was released, so I didn’t really have any point of reference when I picked the script up. As a result of not knowing anything about him, the script surprised me in some major ways, with one particular development knocking me on my ass as a reader. If you know about his life or you’ve read the biography, then you should feel safe in reading the rest of this review. If not, then let me sum up real quick and you can hit the road: it’s an amazing script, it should send Russell Crowe back to the Oscars next year, and I’ll be stunned if it makes any money at all. Bye!

If you’re still reading, I’m going to assume you don’t mind a few spoilers. Consider yourself warned. Seriously. Don’t read this if you don’t want to know. There are many levels that the film struck me on. First, it’s beautifully written character work. Say what you will about Akiva Goldsman. I think he got a bum rap from certain directors taking his good scripts and shooting crappy movies from them. That’s out of his hands. I know I liked LOST IN SPACE on the page, but I was sort of dumbstruck by the finished Stephen Hopkins film. This is a case where a piece of potentially difficult material has been crunched with keen intelligence and distilled into something very cinematic, something that will haunt viewers. I think it’s going to be too much for some audiences to take, but it’s strong material. That’s the nature of it.

When we meet Nash the first time, he’s a boy, and we see that his particular genius is already starting to manifest. Some kids ask him to try a trick. They open a book to a random page and ask him how many A’s there are. He looks at it and Goldsman introduces the first of several bold stylistic choices in his adaptation. He shows us the world through the eyes of Nash, the way his brain processes things differently. The entire page goes dark except for the letter A, each one of which rises off the page. One glance, and he’s able to say “47.”

We next find Nash in ’47, as he’s starting at Princeton University. He meets his classmates Fox, Shapely, Zweifel, and Milnor, and Goldsman nimbly etches the odd mix of joy and competition that defines these relationships right away. He also meets his roommate Charles Herman, and they overcome a chilly initial encounter. They end up on the roof of their dorm, sharing a drink.

NASH: My first grade teacher wrote “John has a beautiful mind.” I was five.

CHARLES: Wow. That is smart.

NASH: And that’s all. Smart. I’m not warm. People don’t particularly like me. I don’t generally like them. My mother used to say I got two helpings of brain and half a helping of heart.

It’s a perfect role for Crowe, who’s been accused of being humorless and dour. I think the guy’s a great actor, and even if I don’t think his performance as Maximus was the year’s very finest, I certainly thought it was great work. I said so when I first reviewed GLADIATOR last spring, and I still say so, even after all the hype and attendant backlash. One of the reasons I was so impressed by GLADIATOR, though, was because it came directly after THE INSIDER. It’s the way he can shift from one to the other that I find impressive. As tough as Maximus is physically, Jeffrey Weigand seems weak, defeated, deflated, trapped in middle-aged paunch. Nash is a different look for Crowe again (remember that Flock of Seagulls ‘do at the Oscars?), but it’s the shift in character that I’m dying to see. If he can make us believe each of Nash’s various steps in this particular journey, it should be devastating. It is on the page, anyway.

One of Nash’s teachers in those Princeton days is Robert Oppenheimer, and there are some great points made about the relationship between math and morality. Nash is determined to do something during his time at Princeton that will distinguish him. He’s going to have a great thought. He’s going to do something original. That’s his goal. The pressure he puts on himself is kind of amazing, but eventually, he does come up with an economic theory that proves to be revolutionary, his initial thought being triggered by a conversation in a bar about a table full of girls. Even as he proves himself a genius in his field, though, he proves to be completely inept at social life. He focuses on his occasional consultation work at the Pentagon through the RAND program, and his new teaching position at MIT. It’s in one of his classes that he meets Alecia Lourdes (Jennifer Connelly), and it’s also where he meets Wilhelm Parcher (Ed Harris), the man who recruits him for secret code-breaking work in the Department of Defense. Nash is recruited for his ability to break codes, and he’s put on a massive German conspiracy to create portable atomic weapons and ship them into the United States. The conspiracy, hatched by a splinter group called The New Freedom, is using magazines and newspapers to send messages and coordinate their actions. Nash begins to monitor periodicals, looking for those patterns to emerge, trying to apply his particular gift to what seems like the biggest challenge imaginable.

Alecia is the aggressor in their relationship, and she ends up going to a major university party at the governor’s mansion with Nash. The two of them abandon the main party and go walking around the enormous grounds, getting lost in a garden where they stand, looking up at the stars. Nash tells Alecia to pick a shape.

ALECIA: What?

NASH: An animal, anything.

ALECIA: Okay. An... umbrella.

NASH – POV. As he holds the night in his gaze. The sky grows dark except for a series of stars. They do in fact form an umbrella.

NASH: Look.

Nash steps behind her, taking her hand in his and guiding her eyes, pointing out the pattern in the stars. Alecia LAUGHS with surprise.

ALECIA: Do it again. Do an octopus.

EXT. GOVERNOR’S MANSION – NIGHT- WIDE ANGLE – SECONDS LATER

Nash stands with Alecia under a sky that is totally black save several glittering constellations. An umbrella. An octopus. A rose. A donkey. A ballerina.

Two tiny figures in a universe all their own.

Even as Nash finds intimate contact for the first time in his life, he’s growing distant from his colleagues, missing meetings in order to work on breaking the hidden codes in the magazines. He can’t tell anyone what he’s working on, either, so no one understands why he is haunted by the nightmare of what could happen if those atomic bombs end up in America. Or anywhere. He has nuclear nightmares. Even meeting Marcee, the niece of his old friend Charles, doesn’t lighten his mood any. He marries Alecia, then proceeds to alienate her quickly and completely. His work gets dangerous, complete with car chases, gunshots, men following him, threats against Alecia. One afternoon, when he is cornered by a group of men trying to slip out of a lecture, he is sure he’s about to be killed. Instead, he’s taken... well... he's taken somewhere.

And that's when Goldsman pulls the rug out from under us.

At the request of some of the people associated with the film, I'm going to do something I almost never do now... I'm going to change this review. I'm going to take out some key pieces of material. See, as I stated... I didn't read the biography. What I've learned today is that Akiva Goldsman has done an even more heroic job than I originally thought. He's taken a fairly straightforward piece of research and turned it into something uniquely cinematic. The film's second half kept me surprised from page to page, something that's hard to do these days. In the interests of preserving some of the mystery, let me amend my comments. I'll say that this is a heavy role for Connelly, and I have faith she’ll do an amazing job. She’s an underrated actress who is often drooled over by fanboys, and not without good reason. There’s more going on with her than bombshell measurements and glamour girl features, though. Alecia is not glamourous. There's some hellish things this woman goes through, and she faces it all with strength. Crowe's role is also demanding as he makes the journey from mind to heart. If Crowe plays the transformation right, it will silence many of his detractors.

Universal has an uphill battle with this, and if they sell it too light... if they try and disguise what the movie is... they could make people angry. I'm curious to see how they cut their trailers or how they handle the one-sheets. Ultimately, I don't care how the film does at the box-office. I am impressed by the subject matter and the handling of it, and I can’t wait to see the film for the sheer thrill of seeing if Crowe pulls it off. People often ask me if reading a script ruins a film for me. Not at all, and this is a perfect case of why. I won’t read this script again between now and December. Believe me... I’m not going to be walking in knowing every detail of what’s going to happen.

For one thing, there will have been script revisions. For another thing, there’s performances. When I read a script I love, like this one, my anticipation actually goes up. Now I have something specific I’m looking forward to. If I was a betting man, I’d say Crowe is going to be sitting in that audience again next March, glowering at whoever the host is. I wonder if Hanks is going to be there again. If so, this could turn into one of those classic Hollywood rivalries, the two of them trading nominations, going head to head repeatedly. Now I’ve got myself wondering. Guess I’ll have to go read ROAD TO PERDITION next and see what exactly I’m talking about. Until then...

"Moriarty" out.





Readers Talkback

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  • April 21, 2001, 6:35 p.m. CST

    enough already....

    by Castor777

    damnit! AICN - post the trailer to kiss of the dragon already! christ, i'm dying to take a look at it but i'm sure as shit ain't going to see freddy got fingered and i can't find it online anywhere. ugh! beautiful mind sounds good tho.

  • April 21, 2001, 6:53 p.m. CST

    Since Stephen Hopkins' name is brought up....

    by Milktoast

    He is one of the very worst and mystifyingly still employed directors today. Why the fuck do people still give him the opportunity to work? He must the the A #1 most charming bullshitter to squeeze through a cervix. Look at his resume'. Nghtmare on Elm st 5, the worst and most creatively bankrupt of the series. Predator 2, which was like a can't miss idea coming out of a fertile ground of possibilities...squadering Murtaugh's presense. Next thing I can think of him doing is that killer lion movie with Val Kilmer and Micheal Douglas. I need not go into that. Really I need not go into any of these films because they suck famously...Lost in Space then the weak, pretensious stab at drama taken with Gene Hackman and Morgan Freeman some months ago (can't remember the movie's name). What is the common denominator of all those films (yes, kids, they were all terrible, but what else). They almost all had powerful A list actors in them. Yeah, so Hopkin's continued career and forays into big budget come straight from my personal "What the Fuck?" files. Can any body else name some other chronically bad directors still getting jobs? Rob Cohen is one. Who else? I don't know because I'm trying to harp on the REALLY bad ones and it's too depressing. The directors that never had anything good to offer. Steve Minor. That guy who use to play Starsky in Starsky and Hutch. On another matter, I bet Crowe has forgotten who even hosted the Oscars by now.

  • April 21, 2001, 8:42 p.m. CST

    AN UGLY MIND..'s

    by herzaaes56

    more like it.

  • April 21, 2001, 8:52 p.m. CST

    I still say...

    by user id indeed!

    that Crowe's reaction to Martin's joke WAS his idea of a joke. He's a jovial guy, just look at the Glatiator DVD Feature... of course, then he wasn't being made fun of, but I think he took his rough guy image and ran with it, and nobody got it. There.

  • April 21, 2001, 8:55 p.m. CST

    Dammit! Forgot again!

    by user id indeed!

    THIS AND THE ABOVE HAS AND HAVE BEEN MOMENTS WITH USER ID INDEED! Dammit. I'm losin' my cooooollll...

  • April 21, 2001, 9:10 p.m. CST

    Hopkins gets a bum rap, people!

    by Lenny Nero

    I admit Nightmare 5 was not that good, but it's a Freddy movie; whaddya expect? Predator 2 wasn't too bad, but still Hopkins was trying to get work and he toook what was given to him. Now BLOWN AWAY...that was a fuckin' awesome movie! Don't diss that movie, folks. Ghost and the Darkness, I thought, was good enough as entertainment, which is all it was. Lost in Space wasn't that good again, but that was more due to producers and studios. Under Suspicion...did any of you see that? I saw it in Italy, and I kinda liked it. So, Hopkins ain't great, but he's sure not at the low point of directors like Paul Anderson (not PT Anderson, dammit!)

  • April 21, 2001, 9:41 p.m. CST

    Crowe

    by alpha

    Its funny how people seem to percieve actors differently. Russ Crowe is a genuinely charming, funny and affable guy but at the same time he has his dark moments and dislikes people invading his privacy. I'm sure a lot of people are the same. The weird thing is that because he doesn't pretend to be different from who he is He is perceived as belligerant. When Tom Cruise was in Sydney filming MI2 his behaviour towards extra's and crew was at best dismissive at worst arrogant or cruel and yet in public he was up until recently seen as a good guy. His treatment of his soon to be ex when she had a miscarrige showed the true coldness at his heart but until now it was hidden from the publics view. Some people like Tom Hanks and Russel Crowe dont pretend to be different from who they are. In Hank's case thats a nice guy with few dark spots, in Crowe's its a little more difficult to catergorise him because of his shifting moods. As for Steve Martin's jokes he didn't like the first couple but liked the Ellen Burstyn line apparently. I wonder how many of us would enjoy being made fun of in front of 100's of millions of viewers?

  • April 21, 2001, 11:08 p.m. CST

    Akiva goldsman bashing

    by Samthelion

    Practical Magic, Lost in Space, Batman & Robin, A Time to Kill, Batman Forever. I'm sorry, big M, but I don't see any winners on this list. I think his bashing is justified. The guy has never written a good script. This flick could be this years' PATCH ADAMS. Howard hasn't exactly been on a hot streak recently.

  • April 22, 2001, 12:04 a.m. CST

    Cool!!! I love Marcel Marceau!!!

    by Son Of Batboy

    Damn!!! I really need a stronger prescription. Actually I prefer the original draft where Jennifer Connelly gets replaced by Camryn Manheim. At least then we understood his insanity.

  • April 22, 2001, 2:43 a.m. CST

    stephen fucking hopkins

    by martin_q_blank

    Nice to see that other people out there hate the movies of Hopkins nearly as much as me. And 'Blown Away' DOES suck big time. Dreadful plot, dreadful acting (Tommy Lee Jones' worst ever performance and accent) punctuated by some spectacular fireworks. HOW DOES HE GET WORK? I could say the same about Paul 'Soldier' Anderson.

  • April 22, 2001, 9:42 a.m. CST

    Crowe

    by Oz

    I don't think Russell was amused by the first joke aimed his way. It was an insult to both him and Ellen Burstyn. His parents were in the audience too. Kidnapping is not much of a yuk either. Anyone who has seen his early Aussie fims must know that he is both sensitive and vulnerable. He could not inhabit his characters without these qualities. He is a target because he says what he thinks and doesn't suffer fools gladly. He does his "day job" and has the nerve to think that's enough.

  • April 22, 2001, 9:48 a.m. CST

    sounds like another crapfest to me

    by revam

    I never had any interest on watching Russell Crowe movies up until The Insider, even that I think highly overrated, and I don't even want to go to Gladiator, where he's basically being Russell Crowe.

  • April 22, 2001, 9:57 a.m. CST

    he's always pissed off...

    by herzaaes56

    He was rude last year (with Billy Crystal giving that cigarette joke), he's pissed off this year. He's an always-pissed-off guy who will probably kill you if you bump into his girlfriend, which is basically anybody on a skirt. It's well documented he's not somebody who has sense of humor, which explains he never plays comedic roles, which would be the ONLY real stretch to any of his roles.

  • April 22, 2001, 6:41 p.m. CST

    ABM

    by katef

    I did read the biography and came away believing, as you do, that if Russel Crowe pulls this off, he will most definetly be sitting in the Shrine Auditorium March 2002. I had no idea how the script was going to read and now, after having read your piece, I am truly fascinated. It will truly be a tour de force for Russell if he succeeds.

  • April 23, 2001, 10:59 p.m. CST

    seems like another winner for Crowe

    by gibsonite

    aussies are not only cool, they've got the talent to match that. period.