A BEAUTIFUL MIND (2001)
Who: John Nash, Princeton mathematician and Nobel Prize winner
Star turn: Russell Crowe approximated a West Virginia accent and, with an assist from makeup artists, ages through Nash’s Nobel win in his 60s.
Bigscreen spin: Nash refused to let his schizophrenia defeat him, and aided by the love of his wife, became a success.
Dramatic license: Nash’s Latina wife Alicia — from El Salvador — is played by Caucasian glamour gal Jennifer Connelly.
What it gets right: Nash was diagnosed a paranoid schizophrenic.
Biggest rap against pic: Fabricating psychotic episodes of which there was no record; omitting Nash’s reported homosexual activity.
Who: Muhammad Ali, world champion boxer who floated like a butterfly, stung like a bee.
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Star turn: A buffed-up Will Smith used his rapping skills to mimic Ali’s sing-song patois and “king of the world” ego, although many argue about who was prettier.
Bigscreen spin: The boxer succeeded at taking on all comers, in and out of the ring.
Dramatic license: Unlikely that Ali’s lawyer was at the hotel where Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated while on phone with him.
What it got right: Ali’s warm relationship with Howard Cosell; his conversion to Islam and unwillingness to fight in Vietnam.
Biggest rap: Cosell (Jon Voight) attends the Ali vs. George Foreman “Rumble in the Jungle”; in reality, he wasn’t there.
THE HURRICANE (1999)
Who: Ruben “Hurricane” Carter, a boxer wrongfully convicted for three murders.
Star turn: A bespectacled Denzel Washington shaves his head and dons a goatee, attaining the look of a jailhouse professor.
Bigscreen spin: Downplays Carter’s prior criminal record, makes him nearly a moral beacon.
Dramatic license: Lionizes Canadian team that aided his release, overemphasizing their involvement.
What it got right: Carter’s internal fight between more principled discipline and raging violence; his ultimate exoneration for the murders.
Biggest rap: Invents a racist cop who falsifies evidence and a jail guard who aids him.
THE INSIDER (1999)
Who: Jeffrey Wigand, tobacco industry whistle-blower
Star turn: An overweight Russell Crowe with thinning, graying hair and pocket protector
Bigscreen spin: Several of Wigand’s (Crowe) allegations during his “60 Minutes” interview that are ticked off in the film were reportedly undermined during court testimony.
What it got right: Wigand’s actions did bring the most intense scrutiny yet on the tobacco industry’s more secretive practices, leading to a multibillion-dollar government settlement in 1997.
Dramatic license: Pic ignores allegations of abusive behavior toward family; Mike Wallace disputes portrayal of CBS’ pressure to kill story.
Biggest rap: Wigand reportedly didn’t receive threatening emails or a bullet in his mailbox from tobacco company Brown & Wlliamson.
Who: Richard M. Nixon, disgraced 37th president of the United States who resigned office after threatened with impeachment following Watergate scandal.
Star turn: Anthony Hopkins with receded hairline and Richard III body language
Bigscreen spin: Despite Oliver Stone’s attempt to tenuously link Nixon’s activities to John F. Kennedy’s assassination, film conveys largely verifiable portrait of the stigmatized president.
What it got right: Nixon’s maddening blend of lauded and derided Oval Office moves
Dramatic license: Nixon visits the CIA headquarters to investigate administration leaks; maudlin scenes between Nixon and wife Pat.
Biggest rap: Characterizing the president as twitchy, crazed paranoiac.
(Sources: “Past Imperfect: History According to the Movies” by Mark C. Carnes, Wikipedia.com, Associated Press)