Review by Gordon Justesen
Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow,
Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis
Director: John Madden
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1
Video: Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Features: See Review
Length: 99 Minutes
Release Date: February 14, 2006
“It’s forty pages long. I didn’t memorize it. It’s not a muffin recipe!”
When it comes to school subjects, Math is and will always be my least favorite subject. Addition, subtracting, multiplying and dividing was where I drew the line. I had no problem in those fields. But once I entered the realm of fractions, that’s where I learned to despise this subject forever.
So how could I ever find myself enthralled in a film devoted to solving a single math problem? Surprisingly enough, Proof is quite fascinating. Shakespeare in Love director John Madden has adapted the award winning stage play by David Auburn into a quite superb cinematic character study. The math bits lost me, but the film is still one to hold my attention.
The focus of the story is Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), the daughter of recently deceased, and very brilliant, math professor Robert (Anthony Hopkins). Though a genius in his field, Robert was declared in his later years to be suffering from some sort of dementia, and Catherine gave up her life to be his caregiver. Now that he has passed on, Catherine seriously doesn’t know what to think. She loved him deeply, but the question remains did all the time of tending to the supposed insane man trigger some insanity in her in the end.
Added to her dilemma, Catherine, a fine math student in her own right, soon comes to acknowledge a possible revolutionary math equation that her father may have completed, or left to be completed, just before dying. She doesn’t want anything to do with it, but one of her father’s former students, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), insists that they both get to the bottom of trying to solve it. Catherine finds herself becoming attracted to him, but she doesn’t know if she can trust him since he’s been snooping around her father’s old notebooks.
Added to the human equation is Catherine’s estranged sister, Claire (Hope Davis), to help her deal with the aftermath of the father’s passing. As Catherine’s behavior seems to grow more erratic everyday, Claire starts to feel that maybe she has inherited the mad qualities that made their father the genius he was. After all, a genius quality is one that revolutionizes a certain field, and Robert did that indeed while teaching math.
The performances in Proof are indeed the reason to see it. Ms. Paltrow, who we’re lucky to see on screen these days, delivers such a strong, emotion-ridden performance that it’s sometimes painful to watch. Catherine is a woman going through such conflicting emotional pain, and the only emotion she can vent is fear and frustration even as those who care most about her try to help her cope.
And though Anthony Hopkins has the least screen time of the four leads, he mesmerizes us with every minute he’s on the screen, as only an actor of Sir Anthony’s caliber can do. His character pops up in flashbacks, as well as a few of Catherine’s hallucinations. When we learn the real nature of his character, it’s nothing short of astonishing.
And rounding out the cast are superb turns from Jake Gyllenhaal and Hope Davis, two actors who’ve been very busy lately. Ms. Davis also appeared in pivotal supporting roles in The Weather Man and The Matador. And as for Gyllenhaal, after appearing in big roles in this, Jarhead and Brokeback Mountain, it seems that he shows no sign of slowing down anytime soon.
Again, math and I will never go together. Any teacher or professor can try as hard as they can to embed it into my brain, but I will never understand it. And while the bits of math in Proof, which are quite frequent, left me scratching my head, the remaining ingredients; the writing, directing, and acting, left me purely awestruck.
This is a strong anamorphic offering from Miramax. The image is nothing but pure clarity from beginning to end. Day and night sequences fair terrifically in equal measures. Colors are nicely handled as well. A sharp and bold visual presentation for sure!
This is a stage adaptation, so it should come as no surprise that the film is a dialogue-driven piece. But the 5.1 mix does convey the strong moments in intense dialogue very well. In addition, several sequences such as that of a party and moments of crowd gatherings result in brief but striking and dynamic sound.
Included are three key features; a director’s commentary from John Madden, a featurette titled “From Stage to Screen: The Making of Proof”, and deleted scenes with optional commentary. Traditional bonuses, but well handled nonetheless.
If anything, Proof is indeed proof that anyone related to the teachings of math can be driven insane, which makes sense since this subject has made me crazy ever since middle school. All kidding aside, this is an intelligent film with strong characters, outstanding performances and sharp-as-a-blade writing. A must see dramatic film.