"A Beautiful Mind," "Black Hawk Down"

Readers respond to our critics.


Salon Staff
January 12, 2002 2:08AM (UTC)

Read the review of "A Beautiful Mind."

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I am aghast at your recent review of "A Beautiful Mind." I find it hard to fathom that your reviewer even saw the same movie I did. I attended one of the by-invitation-only premieres, and I left the theater convinced that I had seen the best movie of my lifetime.

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I read the book by Sylvia Nasar, and I am well aware that many factors in John Nash's life were left out of the movie and that many characters and scenarios were created. But I have no problem with that. Had the book simply been turned into a screenplay, it would have found audiences only within the realms of academicians already familiar with Dr. Nash. While not disparaging them, I think a more mainstream approach is necessary for the general public.

No, the average person will not understand Dr. Nash's game theory. Especially if it were presented, as your reviewer suggests, in a brief sentence or two. That would make more light of the accomplishment than to admit it is impossible to explain in the context of a popular movie.

Dr. Nash's bisexuality, racism and violent turns toward others also have no real reason to be in this script. Would you have the already ignorant people of this world take it to mean his sexuality was a symptom of his mental illness? Or have others discount a man of genius because he was, at times in his life, a racist? And the movie does explore the inherent violence he was capable of. Perhaps your reviewer went out for popcorn at that point.

-- Linda Tomberlin

Charles Taylor's scathing review of "A Beautiful Mind" was so wildly off-base as to call into question his credibility as a film critic. As director Ron Howard, star Russell Crowe and Sylvia Nasar, the author of the novel upon which the movie is based, have freely acknowledged from the outset of this project, the film version was never intended to be a literal retelling of Nash's life but rather an exploration of the subjects of genius and mental illness, something the film does admirably.

The plot devices utilized by Goldsmith and Howard to illustrate Nash's schizophrenia beautifully conveyed what must be the utter agony of not being able to discern what is real and what is not. As for Crowe's performance, it's hard to imagine a more fully realized portrayal of genius, madness and recovery; that performance is all the more remarkable and graceful for its restraint and subtlety. In lesser hands, this role could have been exactly the kind of scenery-chewing debacle Taylor seems to be railing against.

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"A Beautiful Mind" is a gripping, moving, and involving film that is both entertaining and thought-provoking, a rarity among the dreck that passes for cinema these days. That it was, additionally, a soaring portrait of an astonishing recovery and triumph -- both of which actually occurred -- is just icing on the cake.

-- Wendy O'Connor

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Basically, I have to agree with the review, although overall I enjoyed the movie. Russell Crowe overacts, and that car chase scene is a swindle. However, I did think the way Nash's delusions are revealed in a surprising way was the strength of the film: It makes the concept of a delusion very real. One can almost understand how it could happen.

However, the true weakness of the film is its cowardice in not explaining the science and Nash's accomplishments. Without those, Nash is just another schizophrenic: a sad story, but not unique. This cowardice is typical of Hollywood and simply destroys these types of films. Compare this film with the play "Copenhagen," where the writing is fearless, covering the subjects of quantum mechanics and the physics of the atom bomb in exploring the morality of the bomb and the personalities of two major players. By wimping out, "A Beautiful Mind" misses the chance to be much better than just an average feel-good movie.

-- Harry Sticker

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Although I appreciate Charles Taylor's well-rounded knowledge of the life of John Nash, I believe he's missed the mark of the film. If Ron Howard had decided to be more true to the details of Nash's life, the film would have become a weak whitewash of an extraordinary existence. Rather, Howard focuses on the loss of control of a mind that thrives on control. He brilliantly and seamlessly involves the viewer in the manifestation of a schizophrenic mind; not as the usual objective outsider who is aware of what is real and what is delusion, but subjectively, making the viewer question what is real, what is false, creating empathy. Few films probing the subject of schizophrenia have been successful at creating such understanding of such a mysterious illness.

I think Ron Howard successfully focused his film on the frustration of a single soul whose very passion for life relied uniquely on a mind which could solve anything, know or endeavor to know anything. There was never any suggestion of a biographical recounting of a life. Would the mention of John Nash's acrid personality or racist attitudes have mitigated his schizophrenia?

As art, as a sketch of the intellect slowly and unwittingly pilfered, "A Beautiful Mind" hits its mark. As provocation to learn more about an extraordinary life, it is again successful, and I look forward to reading Sylvia Nasar's book.

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I, like most film appreciators (I'd like to believe), know better than to get our information from a film, which is art. That's where I believe Taylor has missed the mark. [This is] a film, after all, not a documentary.

-- Lucy Amato

As relatives of an adult schizophrenic, my husband and I were tremendously appreciative of the filmmakers' sensitive and accurate portrayal of the issues we, our peers, and our ill family members face. We saw our lives in the struggle to continue to choose medication even at a cost of some productive functions, in the necessity for "mental hygiene" even while medicated, in the persistent and overwhelming power of delusion, and in the sometimes laughable uncertainty over who is in touch with reality -- the one who thinks there are garbage men in the night or the one who doesn't. I guess I'm enough of a history buff to wish that the filmmakers had trimmed their sails closer to the truth regarding some points of John Nash's life. But I'm tremendously grateful that this film's very truthful portrayal of schizophrenia will give thousands of moviegoers a better understanding of the one person in a hundred who has schizophrenia.

-- Carlene Hill Byron

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Read the review of "Black Hawk Down."

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Andrew O'Hehir does a terrible job with his review of "Black Hawk Down." He says: "For all its pulse-pounding death and terror, all its blood and screaming, all its slo-mo animation of rocket-propelled grenades in flight, 'Black Hawk Down' never gives you the sense that it has an idea in its head or a clear destination."

No idea and no clear destination is the statement made by the movie. It's the single important point, and the answer to the haunting question, "How did this happen?"

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Mr. O'Hehir would perhaps like the battle to have the clarity and purpose of the storming of Normandy. While that might have given him more enjoyment, it would have been utter fiction.

-- Steve Story

Andrew O'Hehir's criticism of Ridley Scott's film version of Mark Bowden's excellent research that comprises the book "Black Hawk Down" is revealing in that he inadvertently answers the questions that encompass his criticism. O'Hehir's recurring theme, dripping with sarcasm, is that the film fails to ask or answer central questions or provide compelling reason to anticipate the outcome, thus becoming "an endless battle scene in search of a movie." Specifically, O'Hehir rhetorically asks, "But what were they doing in Somalia in the first place? Why did an entire city seem to rise up in hatred against them? What purpose did their bravery serve? 'Black Hawk Down' never answers these questions, or even quite asks them."

O'Hehir is apparently faulting Scott's film and Bowden's book for not satisfactorily explaining and commenting on the whole philosophy behind U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War era, specifically the episode in Somalia. The tragedy, and thus the compelling human element of the film and story, is the idea that, regardless of the political or even logical reasons, U.S. soldiers, human beings with loved ones and families, follow orders and often die gruesome deaths in faraway places, and it is the audience who should have the intellectual fortitude to ask and answer questions of "why" for themselves.

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-- Brian Brashear

Andrew O'Hehir nails with pinpoint accuracy the reasons for the utter failure of the movie "Black Hawk Down."

It beggars the imagination that with Mark Bowden's exquisitely researched book as source material, Ridley Scott could completely miss the point to such an extent.

The only fidelity in the whole mess is that the pointless, confused, technophile gun-geekism that led directly to the tragedy in Mogadishu is exactly the same juice that powers the film.

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-- Shannon Roy

You're missing the point. Mogadishu was a case of underarmed soldiers trying to make up for their lack of equipment through sheer valor. I know you don't believe me, having seen the movie. But did you notice any artillery being used? Any American tanks or APCs? Just one battery of four howitzers would have saved a whole lot of lives, Somali included.

-- Frank Hilliard

Andrew O'Hehir's review of "Black Hawk Down" is factually incorrect. Not a single soldier of the Special Forces was involved in the conflict in Mogadishu. The term "Special Forces" refers specifically to the Green Berets, very specialized troops whose job is to rendezvous with sympathetic locals and train, equip and guide them in conflicts.

I believe Mr. O'Hehir is looking for the term "Special Operations." Both Rangers and Delta Force soldiers fall under the auspice of "Special Operations" or SpecOps -- but have absolutely nothing to do with Special Forces. I'm quite certain the Rangers and Delta Forces would be upset to learn that they'd suddenly been transferred to Special Forces. The term Special Operations is broad, covering many different kinds of soldiers who do unconventional jobs. The term Special Forces is very specific and should be used precisely.

It is one thing for Mr. O'Hehir's reviews to be precious and snide -- and another thing entirely to be factually incorrect. I suppose Salon doesn't mind precious and snide, but I hope that you generally keep a higher standard of accuracy.

-- David Krieger


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