A skillful adaptation of a real-life story by director Ron Howard, who matures beyond the facile emotions and obviousness inherent to most of his previous work, embracing a new level of maturity that is a welcome compliment to his clear, if workmanlike visual style. Howard has always been a reliable film craftsman, efficiently translating words into pictures even if his compositions have remained more functional than creative. It's a curse endemic to those who made their bones in television, including Howard's contemporaries Garry Marshall and Penny Marshall. Despite two successful decades on the A-list, they have few major-league peers with such a lack of distinguishable artistic signatures. Without skipping a beat, Howard has moved effortlessly from the rapid-fire compactness of Apollo 13 (1995) to the bloated, sugary, over-the-top razzle-dazzle of the almost unforgivably heinous How the Grinch Stole Christmas (2000). So equated is he with a glossy, marketable broadness that the sheer elegance and subtlety of his approach to this largely internal story is astonishing. It's a quantum leap forward that would be comparable to the achievement of Steven Spielberg with Schindler's List (1995), if not for the difference in emotional, physical, and historical scale. Always a demanding, exacting actor, Russell Crowe continues a winning streak by delivering the latest in a series of knockout performances, adroitly handled by a director who seems simpatico with his every choice. The film's structural gimmick turns in on itself halfway through, challenging the viewer to observe every previous and subsequent event through the eyes of paranoia, a brilliant twist that works beautifully, even better so because it is never hammered indelicately home by the filmmaker. A Beautiful Mind (2001) is a serious, fully realized story gracefully handled by Howard, proving that an artist never stops evolving no matter how accomplished his resumé.