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Miramax Pictures presents
Proof (2005)

"I didn't find it. I wrote it."
- Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow)

Review By: David Krauss   
Published: February 21, 2006

Stars: Gwyneth Paltrow, Anthony Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, Hope Davis
Director: John Madden

MPAA Rating: PG-13 for some sexual content, language, and drug references
Run Time: 01h:40m:15s
Release Date: February 14, 2006
UPC: 786936296303
Genre: drama


Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
B AB+B+ B-

DVD Review

Are all mathematicians crazy? If you trust Hollywood's recent cinematic depictions, the answer would be a resounding yes. John Nash, the real-life subject of A Beautiful Mind, deludes himself into believing he's a clandestine Cold War code-breaker for the U.S. government, while Robert (Anthony Hopkins), the fictional math genius and esteemed University of Chicago professor in Proof, tirelessly scribbles reams of incoherent ramblings while under the impression he's constructing a breakthrough formula. I must admit, just looking at a single algebraic or geometric equation makes my head spin, so I can only imagine what those jumbles of numbers, letters, and abstract theories must do to those who immerse themselves in such gibberish on a daily basis. According to the movies, they go insane.

Schizophrenia destroys many fertile, brilliant minds, but Proof isn't a case study of Robert's affliction. Rather it focuses on the disease's emotional fallout, and how it affects Robert's two daughters after his death. Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), who nursed her dad through his difficult final years, inherited his mathematical talent, but fears that gift may bring with it the mental illness that ruined his life. Claire (Hope Davis), her yuppie older sister who swoops in from New York to micromanage the funeral and tidy up loose ends, shares this view, and believes the seeds of dementia may already be sprouting. Catherine's irrational behavior, confusion, and depression raise warning flags, and though such behavior is often typical when dealing with the pain of a parent's death, Claire reads more into it, and tries to convince Catherine to move back with her to Manhattan, so she can be properly "looked after." Catherine resists and resents the offer, passionately proclaiming her sanity despite her private doubts, until Hal Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal), one of Robert's former students, discovers a potentially landmark piece of mathematical theory in a locked drawer in the family house. Catherine asserts the proof in question is hers, but the work has Robert's personal stamp all over it. And when Hal, with whom Catherine has begun a tentative romantic relationship, expresses skepticism over the authorship, his lack of support crushes her.

At first, Proof leads us to believe Catherine and Hal will ultimately discover some hidden message or profound legacy in the dozens of notebooks Robert filled during his last year, but screenwriters David Auburn and Rebecca Miller (who adapted Auburn's Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-winning play) create a more complex puzzle. By shifting the focus toward Catherine, we soon discover it's her mind we need to unlock, her demons that need to be purged, and her life that needs to be stitched ever so gingerly back together. "Proof" may be a mathematical term that fits the nuts-and-bolts of the plot, but it's also a theme that subtly shades the drama. Proof of love, proof of sanity, proof of commitment, proof of intelligence—Catherine craves all of these concrete declarations in order to pick up the pieces of her shattered existence.

On stage, Proof takes place in a single interior location, so naturally Auburn and Miller labored to open up the play and make it more cinematic. Unfortunately, their efforts don't always work. Dialogue and confrontations that would sound natural in the privacy of one's home, adopt a stilted and contrived tone in public areas. There's lots of yelling and crying in Proof, and seeing such raw emotion spill out in stores and on street corners—and competing with all of the accompanying "atmosphere"—diminishes its visceral impact. Director John Madden, however, astutely employs fragmented flashbacks and some subtle visual accents to beautifully capture Catherine's turmoil and mental fragility.

Of course, Paltrow's well-modulated performance also succeeds in that regard. Catherine can often be grating and annoying, but it's fear, guilt, and insecurity that drive her personality to those extremes, and Paltrow never lets us forget that fact. The burdens Catherine bears are enormous, and Paltrow makes us feel the weight without begging for pity. Hopkins maximizes his small role, lending Robert an ironic lucidity, strength, and warmth that belie his fractured mental state, and though it's tough to picture Gyllenhaal as a math geek, his natural acting style and earnest demeanor help put over the character.

Proof is packed with emotion, but like the mathematical formulas it so reveres, the film left me cold. Some stage plays can never quite transition to the broader, more sweeping canvas of celluloid, and, despite stellar acting and direction, an engrossing story, and provocative themes, Proof is one of them. The parts are all there, but somehow they just don't add up.

Rating for Style: B
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Miramax supplies a solid transfer, with nary a nick or blemish mucking up the works. An intentional grainy quality pervades the image (especially during nocturnal scenes), adding texture and depth without diminishing clarity. Exteriors burst with vivid color, bringing out all the lushness of the university setting, and fleshtones look stable and natural. Contrast and shadow detail rate well, too.

Image Transfer Grade: B+

 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
DS 2.0Frenchyes
Dolby Digital
5.1
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: The DD 5.1 track never gets much chance to shine. After all, Proof is wholly dialogue driven, with few atmospherics to punch up the talk. That said, a roaring airplane and driving rainstorm occasionally put the rear speakers into play, and Stephen Warbeck's music score nicely envelops.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+

 

Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 15 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in Spanish with remote access
4 Other Trailer(s) featuring An Unfinished Life, Shadows in the Sun, Everything You Want, Daltry Calhoun
3 Deleted Scenes
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by director John Madden
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:12m:03s

Extras Review: The supplements kick off with an informative audio commentary by director John Madden, who combines an in-depth plot analysis with a discussion of his personal technique. He talks about the "themes of validation" that permeate the drama, and how the story's "intense subjectivity" makes it a natural film property. He also recalls how the film version of Proof was a reunion of sorts for him and Paltrow, who not only worked together on Shakespeare in Love, but also collaborated on the London stage production of David Auburn's play. Madden discusses his use of steady-cam, and how it lends the film a slightly unstable, "live" feeling, and notes that Proof proved to be the final project under the Weinstein reign at Miramax. A little dry at times, the commentary is nevertheless intelligent and probing, and adroitly illuminates the story and themes.

Next up are three deleted scenes with optional commentary, followed by the nine-and-a-half-minute featurette, From Stage to Screen: The Making of Proof, a standard behind-the-scenes puff piece featuring interviews with all of the major actors and technical personnel. Both Hopkins and Gyllenhaal admit they were hopeless math students in their youth, while Madden cites Paltrow's "instinctive intelligence" and "fragility" as key elements in drawing the viewer into the story. The director also sums up the drama's message thusly: "In life, it's not proof that's important; it's choosing to believe."

A few trailers for other Miramax productions (but, oddly, not one for Proof) complete the extras package.

Extras Grade: B-

 

Final Comments

Despite its pedigree of awards and acclaim, Proof makes an uneasy transition to the screen. Excellent performances distinguish this thoughtful, often absorbing drama, but it never quite gels as a film. Fans of the actors, however, as well as those who appreciate serious topics and finely drawn characters, will find a rental worthwhile.

 


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