"Hey everybody, let's go see a film about maths!" As Saturday night propositions go, the pitch for "A Beautiful Mind" is about as enticing as playing Happy Families with Fred West.
But put Russell Crowe in the cinematic equation and Ron Howard's latest portion of Academy-friendly fare becomes a good deal more appetising. Just as the brusque Antipodean's intensity and screen charisma blinded audiences to the flaws in "Gladiator", so he delivers another astonishing performance that more than compensates for this film's weaker facets.
A (highly) fictionalised biopic of real-life maths whizz John Forbes Nash Jr, it follows the socially stunted prodigy from his professional beginnings as a nervous freshman at Princeton, through Cold War spy machinations, and his struggle to hold together his marriage to fellow mathematician Alicia (Connelly).
Crowe is totally convincing - from 19-year-old student to OAP - giving a truth to Akiva Goldsman's occasionally twee dialogue and bringing fear and excitement to the most off-putting of subjects. Facing off with such a formidable, scene-stealing star would terrify a lesser actor than Jennifer Connelly, but she matches Crowe scene for scene. With a glamour and grace reminiscent of a 40s film star, and unafraid to suffer some unflattering close-ups of her angst-contorted face, the Golden Globe-winner delivers a performance that should see her secure a place on the A-list.
In truth it's the acting that makes the movie, for while Howard does a good job of actually making sums exciting - and pulls off a masterful narrative shift halfway through - he can't sidestep the pacing problems of biopics that try to cram in their subjects' entire life - perfunctorily whizzing through decades in the final half hour.
Still, such problems are forgivable as the tear-stained finale crowns a moving love story.
Who'd have thought algebra could be so exciting?