A Beautiful Mind

Ron Howard has had trouble earning respect as a director, but that may be changing soon. Most of the people who only remember him as Opie must be dead by now, and even those of us who think of him as Richie Cunningham are getting on in years. Soon, a whole new generation of people will remember him only as the director of proficient, well-made, unspectacular films like “Far and Away,” “Apollo 13” and now “A Beautiful Mind.”

“A Beautiful Mind” is the true story of Dr. John Nash, a Princeton-educated math genius whose work for the government led to a number of interesting and quasi-interesting developments. Russell Crowe plays Nash at an Oscar-caliber level, far outshining anyone else involved — including Howard and screenwriter Akiva Goldsman.

It begins with Nash at Princeton in 1947, using math principles to figure out the best way to pick up girls — and then rushing back to his apartment to develop the theories, rather than actually using them. His roommate, Charles (Paul Bettany, last seen as Geoffrey Chaucer in “A Knight’s Tale”), is a hard-partying English major, and he does what he can to keep Nash sane.

It doesn’t really work, though. Nash goes on to work at M.I.T. at the Wheeler Defense Labs, helping the government crack codes and keep the Commies out of America. It’s 1953 now, and people are very afraid of Commies, and Nash’s beautiful mind has trouble dealing with it all. In the midst of this, he marries one of his students, Alicia (Jennifer Connelly).

Crowe carries the movie on the shoulders of his nerdy, befuddled Professor Nash. Any doubts as to Crowe’s actual talent should be dismissed now; his performance is the genuine article, full of nuances and subtleties and realism.

Jennifer Connelly is no slouch, either. She proved herself in last year’s “Requiem for a Dream,” and now she gives a marvelous supporting performance as Nash’s long-suffering wife. It is reminiscent of Marcia Gay Harden’s role in “Pollock,” both in content (the wife of a troubled genius, and so on) and in quality. Both are quintessential “supporting” roles, in that you hardly notice they’re there until afterward, when you reflect on how much less the movie would have been without them. The movie itself is solid, if unspectacular, and it has a few moving moments and some glossy themes about having a logical mind in an illogical world. As usual, Howard directs without manhandling: You can tell the film was made by someone who knows what he’s doing, but not by someone who wants to draw attention to himself. It’s crisp and well-organized and thoughtful. It’s not life-changing stuff, any of it, but maybe it doesn’t need to be.

B+ (; PG-13, some mild profanity, a little sexual dialogue, brief gore.)