Movie Reviews by Susan Hodgetts and Ania Kalinowska
Starring: Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis
Director: John Madden
Review by Susan Hodgetts
The search for the truth behind a mathematical “proof” also stands for the difficulty in finding proof in life of certain fundamental truths sought naturally by all humans.
Adapted from the successful 2003 stage play of the same name, also directed by John Madden and with an acclaimed performance from Gwyneth Paltrow, David Auburn’s play now makes its transition to the big screen, and doesn’t disappoint.
Theatre is not an easy medium to transfer across to cinema and few rarely succeed, but with some structural changes from the play this stands up superbly strongly as a film in its own right.
Paltrow plays Catherine, a sensitive, extremely talented young maths student living in the shadow of her father, a great and revered maths genius. Robert (Anthony Hopkins) came up with discoveries that changed the mathematical world when he was the same age as Catherine. Alas, since then, he has suffered from rampant mental illness and has never been able to quite come up with the goods since, and it is Catherine who has looked after him.
When Robert dies, Catherine is forced to accept who she is and deal with not only her guilt as a mathematical mystery unfolds, but the question of just how much she has inherited from her father. Her sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives on the scene to complicate her emotional distress and maths student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) who worshipped her father, also brings with him complications of a different nature that the vulnerable Catherine has not yet had to deal with.
This is serious viewing, but the writing (by the original playwright David Auburn, with the addition of the hugely talented Rebecca Miller), dialogue and performances are no less than seriously outstanding. Paltrow, so often annoying in less meaty roles, is fantastic, and in Catherine she has found her role of a lifetime. The character of Claire could so easily have been made a caricature in the hands of the wrong actress, but Hope Davis is so warm and sure-footed that she manages miracles with it. The relationship of the two sisters is beautifully played. The only danger this film had was slipping in to a slight pretentiousness about itself and its sometimes slightly too academic topic.
Review by Ania Kalinowska
Maths, love, insanity. These words sound like an overview of my school years! They are (more importantly) also central to the plot of PROOF, a high-strung drama tackling the problems of Catherine – a woman whose inherited genius might form part of a package deal with a potential madness.
Catherine’s (Gwyneth Paltrow) dad, played by a tired Anthony Hopkins, was a mathematical mastermind in his heyday, sorting out numbers like normal folk sort out their laundry. But his brilliance came at a price: a degenerative mental state that in the last part of his years caused havoc on his daughter, who brought her own life to a standstill while taking care of the sickly man. Now, after his death, she must come to terms with the mysteries of her own mind.
Further side-plots include a romantic spin (with a sadly miscast Jake Gyllenhaal) and the family issues presented by an overbearing sister (a brilliantly cast Hope Davis).
Simply speaking, this movie borrows too freely from both Good Will Hunting and A Beautiful Mind to be anything original. No doubt it would have had a greater impact had it been made a decade earlier (or at least before either of these movies). But there is no way of getting around the similarities, and saying that PROOF is superior to either film would be lying.
Dig deeper and you’ll confront more important matters. Certain offences within PROOF can be disregarded. For example, its dependency on constant, jittery flashbacks, which skips everything back and forth with irritation, can be ascribed to the telling of a fragmented story, or even the reflection of characters’ edgy feelings. Dealing with the intimacies of somebody’s mind is demanding, and while this is up to the challenge, it certainly doesn’t revolutionise the genre. But enough of the forgivable. What is it about this film that cannot be pardoned? It grasps for awards like a starving person grasps for food.
Assumption is its biggest downfall. It assumes that it is worthy of praise because, lets face it, why even bother with maths and mental health nowadays unless you’re expecting rewards? This results in an overconfidence that you can feel on the screen. And yes, that is a bad thing.
PROOF sees the union of actress Gwyneth Paltrow and director John Madden (you’ve heard those names together before: their collaboration SHAKESPEARE IN LOVE garnered a bundle of Oscars back in 1998). Paltrow, who also acted as Catherine for the film’s stage version at Donmar Warehouse in London, here churns out an above-average performance that by no means stops traffic. While she has her feet planted firmly in the shoes of her character, the routine feels strained. It might be good, but it’s far from spectacular, and (as can be seen from this year’s Oscar line-up) is just not Oscar-worthy. Nothing much in this is.
Honestly, PROOF isn’t quite the immaculate effort it appears to be. Although watchable, the only thing it proves is that a stellar cast of actors reciting an unoriginal story, even if it has behind-the-scenes dedication, doesn’t necessarily end in victory.