Movie #118: The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford (2007)

Director: Andrew Dominik

Starring: Brad Pitt, Casey Affleck, Sam Shepard, Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker

Academy Award Nominations (2008):

Best Achievement in Cinematography: Roger Deakins

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Casey Affleck

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During the winter of 1882 Jesse James (Pitt) is increasingly paranoid and depressed after the retirement of his older brother and collapse of his gang.  Bob Ford (Affleck), a young outlaw who idolizes James, talks his way into his hero’s inner circle only to turn against him. (501 Must-See Movies, 2010).

For a movie that spells out what happens in the title, The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford takes a really long time to get to that ending.  For all the good qualities of this film, I have a difficult time getting over how slow this movie progresses.  There is a certain element of suspense as each event builds to the ultimate finale, however, I feel like it could have been an hour shorter with the same effect.

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The exchanges between Pitt and Affleck help in building the tension throughout this film.  I was somewhat skeptical of Brad Pitt playing Jesse James.  It just doesn’t come across as the type of role he would take.  Fortunately he does a decent job in portraying the paranoid, aging outlaw.

Casey Affleck’s performance as Robert Ford walks a very fine line.  He does a good job of depicting the younger brother type who is always picked on.  He does a decent job idolizing Jesse, but it comes across in both a creepy, naive, arrogant way that’s outputting for me.  He received an Oscar nomination for his performance, which I understand, but for me his performance just didn’t quite click.

It’s also interesting to see people like Jeremy Renner, Sam Rockwell, Mary-Louise Parker, and Zooey Deschanel to a lesser degree given the other bigger roles each has done since this film.  They blend well into a Western-era film even though it’s not the type of movie any of them would typically do.

I go back and forth with modern western films.  There are some films that I enjoy, however, I feel like the western genre in general is something that was done a lot better in the past.  The charm of older westerns for me is in the primitive film making techniques.  The sometimes over-the-top shootouts and inaccurate special effects are some of the most charming parts of the older films, and modern films just miss that “it” factor.

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Having now seen The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford twice, my initial observations of the film were only reaffirmed.  The film has its charm and the actors did a surprisingly good job.  However, it could have been an hour shorter and told the same story.  It isn’t on my “to watch again” list, and I think it’s one that can be skipped.

My Rating: 2.5 out of 5 stars

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Best Picture Winners. Movie #117: Braveheart (1995)

Director: Mel Gibson

Starring: Mel Gibson, Sophie Marceau, Brian Cox, Patrick McGoohan, Catherine McCormack, David O’Hara, Brendan Gleeson and Agnus MacFadyen

Academy Awards (1996):

Best Cinematography: John Toll

Best Director: Mel Gibson

Best Makeup: Peter Frampton, Paul Pattison, Lois Burwell

Best Picture: Mel Gibson, Alan Ladd Jr., and Bruce Davey

Best Sound Effects Editing: Lon Bender, Per Hallberg

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Costume Design: Charles Knode

Best Film Editing: Steven Rosenblum

Best Music, Original Dramatic Score: James Horner

Best Sound: Andy Nelson, Scott Millan, Anna Behlmer, Brian Simmons

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Randall Wallace

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“It’s all for nothing if you don’t have freedom.”

In 1280,  King Edward “Longshanks” (Patrick McGoohan) of England claims the vacant Scottish throne for himself following the death of the Scottish king.  He kills a lot of the Scottish nobility, luring them under the guise of peace.  In the ensuing battles, Malcolm Wallace, a commoner, and his oldest son John are also killed.  William Wallace (Gibson), Malcolm’s other son, goes away to Italy with his Uncle Argyle Wallace (Brian Cox).  Returning 20 years later, he meets back up with childhood friend Hamish (Brendan Gleeson) and Murron MacClannough (Catherine McCormack), a girl he has always been in love with.

Longshanks had issued a decree of “Prima Nocte” where English noblemen with land rights in Scotland can have sex with a new bride on her wedding night.  Wallace and Murron marry in secret to avoid this.  Some time later, Murron attacks an English soldier who tries to rape her, leading the local magistrate to tie her up and slit her throat.

Wrong move dude.

An enraged Wallace kills the local garrison, magistrate included, and declares that the Scottish people will no longer be ruled by the English.  His growing army takes the fight to the English, while Robert the Bruce (Angus MacFayden) acts as a go between for Wallace with the feuding Scottish nobles.

Historical inaccuracies aside, this is a pretty entertaining movie that offers a little bit for everyone.  It is primarily an epic, but it mixes in drama, action, comedy and romance and kept me engaged throughout the 177 minutes of running time.  I’ve seen this film plenty of times, and though it’s one I can quote extensively, I tried to come into it with a clean slate.

The countryside shots are magnificent, and James Horner write a dazzling soundtrack that complements the film’s cinematography.  The battle sequences were impressive given the scope and scale involved with each one.  Though mildly gory by my standards, this one had just enough blood and guts to be believable.  The only thing about the battle sequences for me was how long they lasted.  I feel like they could have been shortened up a bit while still getting the same message and point across.

Given the scope and massive undertaking Braveheart was, it’s not all that surprising that the next time Gibson directed a movie was nine years later with Passion of the Christ.

"What will you do with that freedom?"

“What will you do with that freedom?”

In addition to an impressive directing job, Mel Gibson’s acting was well done.  He balances the conflict with the Scottish nobles, the English, and his own internal driving force following the murder of his beloved Murron.  His character is macho, but also intelligent, sensible, and at times humorous.  It’s hard for me to criticize his performance.  I think the fact that he directed the film helped enhance his performance on-screen.

" I have nothing. Men fight for me because if they do not, I throw them off my land and I starve their wives and children. Those men who bled the ground red at Falkirk fought for William Wallace. He fights for something that I never had."

“He fights for something that I never had.”

"The trouble with Scotland is that it's full of Scots."

“The trouble with Scotland is that it’s full of Scots.”

Both Angus MacFayden and Patrick McGoohan did great jobs as Robert the Bruce and King Edward I.  McGoohan’s villain is relentless, conniving, and to the point.  It was interesting to see how his character changed as time went by health-wise.  He’s a guy you just want to hate.

Bruce’s character is almost more interesting as a character study than anyone else in Braveheart.  The internal struggle as he battles between what’s expected of him as a Scottish nobleman contrasted with what he believes is right is something I’ve always found intriguing.  Some of the best scenes of the film, in my opinion, take place with him talking with his father.

Stephen (David O’Hara) and Hamish are great supporting characters.  Though Stephen is mostly there for comic relief, he has a few moments of genuine and honest concern with some of the decisions William made.  It was also interesting in seeing Hamish as he fought alongside his dad, Campbell (James Cosmo), and how their relationship grew through the film.

"Why do you help me?" "Because of the way you are looking at me now."

“Why do you help me?”
“Because of the way you are looking at me now.”

One thing that sets this movie apart from your run-of-the-mill epic is the underlying romantic influence on Wallace and his relationship with Murron and Princess Isabelle (Sophie Marceau).  William is the most vulnerable and realistic when he’s with each woman.  Though the romantic development at times seemed cliché, here it worked well and integrated into the story.

When one thinks of Braveheart: “They may take our lives, but they’ll never take OUR FREEDOM!” and “Every man dies, not every man really lives.” comes to mind.  It’s more than just the battles and bloodshed.  A king trying to hold on to power, a noble son struggling with what’s most important, and a reluctant warrior carrying the burdens of a nation while coping with the loss of virtually everyone close to him all flow together to create an entertaining film worthy of the Best Picture Academy Award.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

Best Picture Winners, Movie #116: Patton (1970)

Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Starring: George C. Scott, Karl Malden, Stephen Young, Michael Strong, Morgan Paull, Michael Bates

Academy Awards (1971):

Best Picture: Frank McCarthy

Best Actor in a Leading Role: George C. Scott

Best Director: Franklin J. Schaffner

Best Original Screenplay: Francis Ford Coppola, Edmund H. North

Best Art Direction, Set Decoration: Urie McCleary, Fil Parrondo, Antonio Mateos, Pieere-Louis Thevenet

Best Sound: Douglas Williams, Don Bassman

Best Film Editing: Hugh S. Fowler

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Cinematography: Fred J. Koenekamp

Best Music, Original Score: Jerry Goldsmith

Best Effects, Special Visual Effects: Alex C. Weldon

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“The conqueror rode in a triumphal chariot, the dazed prisoners walking in chains before him. Sometimes his children, robed in white, stood with him in the chariot, or rode the trace horses. A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.”

Patton tells the story of George S. Patton (Scott) throughout World War II from his campaigns in Northern Africa, the Invasion of Sicily, his reassignment and eventual involvement in the Battle of the Bulge.  Though a military genius, Patton finds himself at odds with his subordinate, and later superior, General Omar Bradley (Malden), and in competition with the British General/Field Marshall Bernard Law Montgomery (Bates).  His candid, tough-love and bruntly honest nature gets him in plenty of trouble, diminishing his role in the Allied upper command towards the end of the war.

George C. Scott’s performance as George S. Patton is truly one of the greatest in film history.  He had some distinct differences from the real Patton, but the harsh, blunt, candid nature comes across throughout the film.  Scott’s performance is engaging and he really portrays Patton as being stubborn to the fault.  He is firm, but also poetic.  He believes in reincarnation, and as they conquer, he visits ancient battlefields proclaiming, “I was there” with complete conviction and sincerity.

Though he won the Academy Award for Best Actor, Scott refused to attend and accept the award, saying the award ceremony itself was just a ‘meat market.’  Scott took the role because Patton was a professional, and Scott admired professionalism.  Aside from Dr. Strangelove, this is the only film I’ve seen Scott perform in.  It makes me hesitant to watch him in anything else because of the high standard this performance sets.

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Patton’s relationship with General Omar Bradley, whose memoir was one of the source materials that the script was based on, is an interesting contrast in two very different leadership styles.  Patton was strict, disciplined, and kept his distance and authority over his men.  He was also willing to take great, and sometimes unnecessary risks.  In contrast, Bradley was much more personable and practical.  His calmer more even tempered personality helped him advance to higher commands.  Though the two were very different, it was good to see the great amount of respect each person had for the other.

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Field Marshall Montgomery was also an interesting contrast with Patton.  Patton noted on more than one occasion that they were both prima donnas, though Montgomery wouldn’t ever admit it.  The scene in Messina was humorous.

Though this film is a war movie, there isn’t a whole lot of battle scenes.  Though the movie runs nearly three hours, there is enough drama outside of the actual battles that keep the film engaging and avoids monotony and boredom.  Patton engaging General Erwin Rommel’s forces in North Africa was very well done, and highlights Patton’s respect for Rommel as a General, while exploiting Rommel’s weaknesses.

This time around I watched it in two sittings, the first hour or so and then the rest.  Perhaps it didn’t seem as long and potentially tedious because I broke it down to two viewings.

It was interesting to note the German side of what was happening.  After Patton had been demoted, they were certain it was a trick, not understanding the consequences of Patton’s treatment of a shell shocked soldier that Patton slaps and calls a coward when visiting a field hospital.   They recognized his competence as a leader, and know there is probably no one better to lead the army in the field.

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Patton is one of the best war and biographical films out there.  Winning seven Oscars, this film tells the story of a brilliant but tragically flawed military genius.  I was a bit surprised, though, that it didn’t win for Best Music, Original Score.  Had anyone other than George C. Scott played Patton, it would have slipped into obscurity.  Scott’s professionalism as an actor is emulated in his portrayal as Patton the military professional.  I can definitely watch this one again.  It’s one anyone interested in military history should see.

My Rating: 5/5 stars

Best Picture Winners. Movie #115: The Apartment (1960)

From now until Oscar Sunday I will be reviewing Best Picture winners. Enjoy!

Director: Billy Wilder

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen, David Lewis, Hope Holiday, Joan Shawlee

Academy Awards (1961):

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Black-and-White: Alexandre Trauner, Edward G. Boyle

Best Director: Billy Wilder

Best Film Editing: Daniel Mandell

Best Picture: Billy Wilder

Best Writing, Story or Screenplay – Written Directly for the Screen: Billy Wilder, I.A.L. Diamond

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Jack Lemmon

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Jack Kruschen

Best Actress in a Leading Role: Shirley MacLaine

Best Cinematography, Black-and-White: Joseph LaShelle

Best Sound: Gordon Sawyer (Samuel Goldwyn SSD)

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Manhattan insurance clerk C.C. Baxter (Lemmon) gains favor with some of his superiors at work by allowing them to use his apartment as a rendezvous for their extramarital affairs.  Things get complicated, though, when Jeff Sheldrake (MacMurray), the company boss, brings Fran Kubelik (MacLaine), an elevator operator who Baxter has fallen in love with, to the apartment.

There are a lot of layers to this story, and they’re intricately woven together and flow smoothly to make for a charming film.  There is the right balance of humor and seriousness, light-heartedness with darker elements.

Jack Lemmon has a certain “it” factor and charm that I’ve always enjoyed.  Most of the films I’ve seen him in have been great showcases of his comedic acting.  However, there always seems to be just enough depth and seriousness with his performances that sets him apart from other exclusively comedic actors.  He’s adds enough serious, meaningful acting to not just be the funnyman.  His performance in The Apartment showcases this balance between funny and serious probably better than any of his other films, at least that I’ve seen.

Shirley MacLaine complements both Lemmon and Fred MacMurray in her given relationship with each man.  She performs her character’s inner conflict very well, and she holds her own with the comedic parts as well.

Jack Kruschen, who earned an Oscar nomination for his part as Baxter’s neighbor Dr. Dreyfuss, carries some of the comedic load of the film and complements the two leads quite well.  Though he plays the irritated neighbor, he also does a great job as a paternal voice of reason.  MacMurray also does a good job as the overbearing womanizer boss type.  It’s interesting to me that My Three Sons started its twelve-year run in 1960.  MacMurray has that 50s/60s “model dad” look to him.  It adds a different dynamic to his performance as Sheldrake.

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The Apartment has an alluring balance of comedy and drama.  Complementary and believable performances by all the major characters really bring this film together.  It’s lighthearted  at times, but serious when it needs to be.  Though the technology and outside cultural influences have become incredibly dated, the core story of the growing love between two people in spite of everything going on around them is still engaging and enjoyable to watch.  Jack Lemmon gives one of his best performances in this film.  I’d definitely recommend this one, and it’ll stay on my radar as one to revisit at some point.

My Rating: 4/5 stars

Best Picture Winners: Movie #114: Schindler’s List (1993)

From now until Oscar Sunday I will be reviewing Best Picture winners. Enjoy!

Director: Steven Spielberg

Starring: Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Caroline Goodall, Jonathan Sagalle

Academy Awards (1994):

Best Picture: Steven Spielberg, Gerald R. Molen, Branko Lustig

Best Director: Steven Spielberg

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material from Another Medium: Steven Zaillian

Best Cinematography: Janusz Kaminski

Best Film Editing: Michael Kahn

Best Art Direction-Set Decoration: Allan Starski, Ewa Braun

Best Music, Original Score: John Williams

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Liam Neeson

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ralph Fiennes

Best Costume Design: Anna Sheppard

Best Makeup: Matthew W. Mungle, Christina Smith, Judith A. Cory

Best Sound: Andy Nelson, Ron Judkins, Scott Millan, Steve Pederson

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As World War II begins, the Nazis move Polish Jews into the Kraków Ghetto.  Businessman Oskar Schindler (Neeson), a member of the Nazi Party, arrives in Krakow to make a fortune.  Bribing local German officials and making connections with the local Jewish black marketeers through Itzhak Stern (Kingsley), Schindler opens a factory producing enamel ware.  He hires numerous Jewish workers, who cost less than Polish workers, and saves those workers from being sent to concentration and extermination camps.

SS officer Amon Goeth (Fiennes) arrives in Kraków to oversee the construction of the Płaszów concentration camp.  Once the camp is completed, he orders the ghetto be liquidated, killing many of the Jews in the process.  Schindler witnesses this from a distance, and shifts his priorities from making money to saving as many lives as possible.

This is Spielberg’s masterpiece.

There are very few films I’ve watched where I just have to sit and really let it soak in once the end credits roll.  Movies like this really put into perspective how pathetic and petty my “struggles” really are.  That’s been the case both times I’ve watched Schindler’s List.

Someone who makes a film about something as significant as the Holocaust has to be all in: directing, motivating performers, production, set design, etc.  Though the full scope of the Holocaust can’t be completely explored in one movie, Steven Spielberg has probably come the closest to accomplishing this.  Filming most of the movie in Poland instead of at a studio, using actors who work best in performing the complex emotions and actions of their characters are a couple of the things Spielberg nails spot on with Schindler’s List.

Stanley Kubrick was in production of his own Holocaust film, Aryan Papers, about the same time that Schindler’s List was released.  He abandoned it, though, in part because of the broad scope of the subject matter.  His critique centered on the fact that Schindler’s focuses on those who survived, a much smaller group compared to the more than 6 million who didn’t.

The black-and-white enhances the gravity of the subject matter.  The way Schindler’s List is filmed conveys the human element that a documentary can’t quite capture while still having that documentary-type feel.

schindlerslist1Liam Neeson gives one of the best performances of his career.  He handles the various emotional stages Schindler goes through authentically.  It’s interesting to see his transformation from a boozing, gambling, womanizing man living the highlife to a man hellbent on saving as many lives as he can.  Witnessing the ghetto liquidation and Goeth’s heartless treatment of the Jews forces Schindler to stop keeping everyone at arm’s length and really take stock in his main purpose.  Though he had done quite a few movies prior to Schindler’s List, he hadn’t had that one great breakout role.  As a result, his star power doesn’t overshadow his performance as could have happened had a more accomplished actor been chosen for this role.

Having already won an Oscar for his role in Gandhi, Ben Kingsley is a grounded, purposeful character with wisdom, insight, and perspective.  His nonverbal expressions provide a continuous reflection of Schindler’s character and his gradual transformation.  Stern acts as Schindler’s conscience to a certain extent.  He also offers perspective that Schindler has saved many lives when Schindler felt guilty for not sacrificing more to save more.

schindlerslistfiennesRalph Fiennes gives an Oscar-worthy performance as the heartless and cruel Amon Goeth.  His intimidation tactics with the Jewish prisoners works well in keeping them in line out of absolute fear.  He seems like the kind of person who keeps pushing to see just how much he can get away with.  It’s good, though, that he can be bribed and Schindler can help set some boundaries with his random and senseless killings.

"Whoever saves one life saves the world entire."

“Whoever saves one life saves the world entire.”

The final scene where the real life Schindler Jews placing stones on Schindler’s grave was especially moving.  I can appreciate someone like Spielberg wanting to tell their story and show the lasting impact that Oskar Schindler had on those that he saved.  The epilogue serves as a time capsule that reaffirms that tangible human connection to those who lived and survived something as horrific as the Holocaust.

Having seen Schindler’s List twice now, I highly doubt I could sit through it again aside from watching it with someone else.  It’s one of those films that is so powerful and moving that it only needs to be watched once.  It is most definitely deserving of the 7 Academy Awards it earned in 1994, and remains timeless as it explored one of history’s darkest events.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars. 

Best Picture Winners. Chariots of Fire (1981)

Director: Hugh Hudson

Starring: Nicholas Farrell, Nigel Havers, Ian Charleson, Ben Cross, Daniel Gerroll, Ian Holm

Academy Awards (1982):

Best Picture: David Puttnam

Best Writing, Screenplay Written Directly for the Screen: Colin Welland

Best Music, Original Score: Vangelis

Best Costume Design: Milena, Canonero

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Supporting Role: Ian Holm

Best Director: Hugh Hudson

Best Film Editing: Terry Rawlings

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Based on a true story, Chariots of Fire is the internationally acclaimed Oscar-winning drama of two very different men who compete as runners in the 1924 Paris Olympics. Eric Liddell (Charleson), a serious Christian Scotsman, believes that he has to succeed as a testament to his undying religious faith. Harold Abrahams (Cross), is a Jewish Englishman who wants desperately to be accepted and prove to the world that Jews are not inferior. The film crosscuts between each man’s life as he trains for the competition, fueled by these very different desires. (From RottenTomatoes.com)

I’ve owned Chariots of Fire for many years, and it’s a bit surprising that I’m only now getting around to watching it. It was enjoyable to watch, and unique enough to keep me engaged.  It’s one of the few family-friendly movies I’ve watched for this project.

This film stays much closer to the source material than most films based on real events.  From what little research I’ve done, a lot of the characters portrayed, the various runners from each country and so on, are historically accurate.  A few people did not give consent for their names to be used, and a few of the background details, where they attended school, etc., were changed.

Perhaps because it was made in the early 1980s or the fact that it’s a 1920s period piece, Chariots of Fire has a more basic visual approach.  It also focuses on developing conflicted yet strong main characters and less on visual effects and a complex set of characters.

I have a feeling that if Chariots of Fire was released today, it wouldn’t get a second look from the Academy.  The film’s pace is slow and the acting is serviceable though not necessarily spectacular.

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Chariots of Fire‘s charm comes from the inner struggle that Abrahams and Liddell deal with throughout the film.  Abrahams is out to prove himself despite the fact that he is seen as inferior because he is a Jew.  He seems more passionate, though not as focused in direction and purpose as Liddell, even saying “I’m forever in pursuit and I don’t even know what I am chasing.”

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Liddell, on the other hand, has a very clear reason and purpose.  “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run I feel His pleasure.”  His refusal to race on Sunday made headlines in its day.  The issue was resolved months before the trip to Paris in reality, however pushing back the discovery and changes added for the film’s dramatic effect.  Liddell is a good example of maintaining one’s beliefs in spite of the consequences.  I find that admirable regardless of what one’s convictions are.

chariotsianholmIan Holm earned a Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination for his portrayal of Sam Mussabini in this movie.  He does well as the straight-forward no nonsense trainer.  I like straight-forward no nonsense characters.  They’re blunt and inadvertently add a little comic relief.  Mussabini is almost an 1920s version of Mickey Goldmill from Rocky.

I have mixed feelings about Chariots of Fire.  On the one hand, it did win best picture in a year that also had Raiders of the Lost Ark and On Golden Pond up for the nomination.  It’s a charming film with two protagonists, each with something to prove, however, there’s not much of a re-watchable factor for me.  The film’s score can be set to anything in slow motion and immediately make it awesome.  The score, which earned an Oscar for the film, is probably the biggest and most long-lasting cultural contribution.

This is a film to see once.

My Rating: 3/5 stars.

Best Picture Winners: A Beautiful Mind (2001)

Director: Ron Howard

Starring: Russell Crowe, Ed Harris, Jennifer Connelly, Christopher Plummer, Paul Bettany, Josh Lucas, and Judd Hirsch

Academy Awards (2002):

Best Picture: Brian Grazer, Ron Howard

Best Actress in a Supporting Role: Jennifer Connelly

Best Director: Ron Howard

Best Writing, Screenplay Based on Material Previously Produced or Published: Akiva Goldsman

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Actor in a Leading Role: Russell Crowe

Best Film Editing: Mike Hill, Daniel P. Hanley

Best Makeup: Greg Cannom, Colleen Callaghan

Best Original Score: James Horner

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“Imagine if you suddenly learned that the people, the places, the moments most important to you were not gone, not dead, but worse, had never been.”

A Beautiful Mind explores the life of John Nash (Crowe), Nobel Prize winning mathematician.  Beginning with his graduate studies at Princeton, Nash discovers a new concept of governing dynamics, the Nash Equilibrium.  Following Princeton, Nash works at a research lab at MIT doing work for the Pentagon and teaching on the side.  He meets Alicia (Connelly), one of his students, and the two fall in love.  He is also approached by William Parcher (Harris) to do classified work in decoding a Soviet attack on America.

However, not everything is as it appears.

Based on the book of the same name by Sylvia Nasar, A Beautiful Mind is a film that balances a number of movie genres.  It’s got drama,mystery, romance, a little bit of comedy.  The various elements of the film make it insightful, suspenseful, and entertaining on a number of levels.

From a visual perspective, a lot goes on in A Beautiful Mind.  Some of the film’s early scenes, specifically at Princeton, have an older look to them.  I like when a director can add little elements like that.  It helps in contrasting the different time periods throughout the film.  They also do good with showing Nash’s perspective as he sees the various connections and patterns in the math.

abeautifulmind2Though some of the character’s mannerisms were annoying to me, Russell Crowe does a great job of bringing John Nash to life.  I’m probably nitpicking more than anything else.  He does well with portraying the paranoid genius who was given “two helping of brain but only a half a helping of heart.”  The real life John Nash visited the set, and Crowe notices some of his tendencies, hand movements, and things of the sort, and incorporated them into his performance.

A Beautiful Mind was filmed almost entirely chronologically, and I think that helped Crowe’s performance as he became Nash and progressed naturally through the various stages of life portrayed in the film.

Jennifer Connelly, wow, what a performance is all I can say.  Even though she doesn’t command every scene she’s in, she gives a strong performance and more than holds her own.  From the beginning of their love story through the pain and anguish later on, her portrayal of Alicia Nash is believable and genuine.  As I’ve looked at some of the other people considered for her role and Crowe’s, I know Ron Howard made the right call with those two.

abeautifulmind3Paul Bettany is an interesting character to say the least.  Having portrayed Geoffrey Chaucer in A Knight’s Tale, an entertaining role, Bettany demonstrated his ability to be a sort of classical funnyman in A Beautiful Mind.  Though a lot of his performance has the comedic undertone, he has nuggets of truth and deep insight throughout the film.  Ed Harris also gives a decent performance.  He excels in the serious no-nonsense roles like Parcher.  I don’t know if I would call him a typecast character, but his most memorable performances are ones like this one.

This is a film I’d recommend seeing twice before forming an opinion about it.  I saw this one twice in the theaters: the first time I hated it, the second time I loved it.  Knowing the major plot twist gives perspective and a different understanding to the first half of the film.   Akiva Goldsman, Ron Howard, and Brian Grazer created the world through Nash’s perspective, so the audience experiences the major twist at the same time Nash does.  I remember being very confused the first time I saw it, hence not liking it.

"I need to believe, that something extraordinary is possible."

“I need to believe, that something extraordinary is possible.”

It’s been probably about a decade since I’ve watched A Beautiful Mind.  Having a chance to re-visit it for me was enjoyable and a reminder of how great A Beautiful Mind is.  Russell Crowe brings John Nash’s story to life, has great on-screen chemistry with Ed Harris, Paul Bettany, and most importantly Jennifer Connelly.  Ron Howard has created a great film, one certainly deserving of the Best Picture Oscar.  See this one twice if you haven’t seen it yet.

My Rating: 5 out of 5 stars.