Proof (United States, 2005)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

Maybe it's my math/engineering background, but I found Proof to be fascinating both on the stage and on the screen. Actually, appreciation of the film demands little math knowledge (aside from recognizing that a "proof" is a logical set of equations designed to explain and defend the veracity of a theorem). Proof is less about math than it is about the ins-and-outs of intellectual property and the relationships of one women to those around her (father, sister, lover).

When we first meet Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), it's the day before her father's funeral. During the last years of his life, Robert (Anthony Hopkins) - once a revered mathematician - was caught in the grip of dementia, with Catherine as his lone caregiver. Now, with his death, her sister, Claire (Hope Davis), has jetted in from New York City to pick up the pieces and bring Catherine back with her. And her father's dissertation student, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), is poring over Robert's old notebooks, looking for something brilliant amidst all the ramblings. Meanwhile, Catherine, who believes she may have inherited her father's madness as well as his talent, is slowly coming apart.

Where is the line between madness and genius? That's a key question posed by Proof, but not the only one. By introducing elements of mystery and uncertainty, it adds a sense of urgency to a topic normally reserved for dry seminars: intellectual property. Or, to put it another way, when a radical proof exists without confirmed authorship, to whom does it belong?

The focus of the movie is Catherine. Is she going mad, or is her erratic behavior the result of grief, stress, and the natural eccentricity of a genius? The screenplay, co-credited to David Auburn (who wrote the play) and Rebecca Miller, leans in one direction, but allows the viewer to make the final determination. It's not clear-cut. Regardless of your position, however, you won't be able to deny the force and vibrancy of Catherine's character. Gwyneth Paltrow, once again working with director John Madden and reprising the role she played on the London stage, is a powerhouse of raw emotion. (Oscar nomination?) This may be her most mature performance to date. Her trio of supporting players hits the right notes.

The material is intellectual, but the treatment is not. Proof is a stirring motion picture that challenges our views on a great many things about life, some of which we take for granted. And, by opening up the play, Madden has made it less talky and more cinematic without losing the quintessential elements that made it such a success on stage.

Proof (United States, 2005)

Run Time: 1:40
U.S. Release Date: 2005-09-16
MPAA Rating: "PG-13" (Sexual Situations, Profanity)
Genre: DRAMA
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1