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  • Proof
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on March 17, 2007
It's interesting that most people tend to have a problem with the screenplay for this movie, when it is almost word for word the stage play, which is renowned for its elegance and simplicity. Perhaps the issue comes up in the flashbacks and the ending, both of which disagree with the play. Still, as a stage adaptation to film, Proof does the job beautifully. The characters remain true to their original 2-dimensionality; it is the apparent lack of emotion that actually lends itself to intense feelings from the viewer.
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Proof of a mathematical equation and proof of madness are the two driving forces in John Madden's film. Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) who cared for her brilliant mathematician father Robert (Anthony Hopkins) is afraid that she's inherited his other "gift"-mental illness. Catherine cared for her father Robert during the end. When Claire (Hope Davis) Catherine's sister arrives home for the funeral she expresses concern for Catherine's mental state. Catherine begins to doubt her own teetering sanity. Robert's assistant Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) rummages around Robert's papers the night before and after the funeral trying to find an important equation her father was working on before he died. Featuring a group of strong performances, "Proof" is a compelling drama about grief, madness and emotional seclusion. Although Madden's drama suffers from the stage origins of the play but the emotional high wire act the cast performs makes it worthwhile. Whether or not there's "proof" of this film being a "great" film is based on how drawn into the drama you are by the appealing cast. A warning about some of the other reviews here--there good reviews but some of them have spoilers that give away a lot of the plot of the film. If you want to be surpised and enjoy the ride then I'd suggest you skip reading these reviews.

"Proof" looks extremely good here with natural skin tones, sharp image quality and nice definition. The 5.1 audio isn't exactly designed for the format since this a dialogue driven film but there is nice ambient sounds evident in the other speakers.

A clinical but interesting commentary track by John Madden is interesting to listen to but would have been enlightened by the cast's contribution. We also get deleted scenes none of which are revelations "From Stage to Screen" covers the adaptation of the stage play to film. One of the challenges was staying true to the stage roots while opening up the player and making it less stage bound. Producer Allison Owen makes an interesting comment-she imagined the film as the type of film that would have been made in the 70's where moving and powerful drama was still king in theaters. The cast and Madden discuss their characters and what attracted them to the project. Madden comments that many audience members thought that the play was like watching a movie which is a bit unusual but that was because of the fact that the play was told from a variety of different points of view and the staging.

A fine film that touches on madness, emotional isolation and the fear of what lies down the road for anyone; "Proof" is a fascinating drama that works amazingly well due to the strong performances. Madden who worked with Paltrow in "Shakespeare in Love" clearly connects with Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins.
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John Madden, who directed Shakespeare in Love (1998), and David Auburn, who wrote the script (adapted from his play), have put together a moving story about mathematical genius admixed with mental instability much in the manner of the life of John Nash who was the subject of A Beautiful Mind (2001).

Nash was a paranoid schizophrenic who was tormented by voices in his head warning him of dangers and conspiracies that didn't exist. Like Nash, Robert (Anthony Hopkins) is a brilliant mathematician who, having done spectacular work in his early twenties, goes crazy. Unlike Nash he is never able to regain control of "the machinery," as he calls his mind, and is never able to do any worthwhile work again.

Or is he? As he is taken care of by his mathematically astute daughter, Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow in a most affecting and beguiling performance) he fills scores of notebooks with intense writings. At one point he seems in remission and at another point Catherine rushes home to find him in out in the backyard in the middle of a snowy night fired with enthusiasm about his latest work. At another point, he and Catherine work together on a project. And herein lies the crux of the matter. As we discover, this project turns out to be a proof of a difficult mathematical theorem or conjecture that will be internationally celebrated if it is correct.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays Hal, one of Robert's students who is going through his mentor's papers in the hope of discovering something wonderful. Catherine tells him that among the 103 notebooks that her father filled during his days of mental instability there is not a single one that has anything of value in it. But when Hal wins her heart she produces a notebook that was locked away in a drawer. It turns out that this notebook contains that most amazing proof mentioned above. And it is here that Catherine says--in line that is so very well set up that her expression fairly takes your breath away--"I wrote it."

Well, did she or didn't she? Because the work seems to be in her father's handwriting and seems to be well beyond her abilities, her sister Claire, played in that clever but somewhat annoying style that Hope Davis has so perfected (About Schmidt; American Splendor), claims that Catherine is deluded and couldn't have written it. To Catherine's grievous disappointment Hal reluctantly agrees, and this seeming lack of faith in her sends Catherine toward the precipice of insanity. This is the key question of the plot. Who wrote the proof? Its resolution will be the denouement of the story.

Clearly Claire believes that Catherine is so like her father that she is about to go crazy herself. So she tells Catherine she wants to sell the house now that their father is dead and bring Catherine to New York where she lives so that she can take care of her.

Will Catherine go or will she trust her heart and begin a life with Hal?

This movie does not play well with some audiences I think because the wonderment that some of the characters feel--the absolute awe that transfigures them when they behold a great mathematical proof, is not entirely appreciated by the average person. Madden makes sure that Catherine, Hal and one of the mathematicians form on their faces an expression something akin to a religious enthrallment when they understand the thrilling logic of the proof. I suspect that for many viewers something was lost in the translation. Consequently, although many others, including myself, believe this to be one of the outstanding movies of 2005 it only rates a 7.0 at IMDb and was not nominated for any Academy Awards. Paltrow won the Best Actress Oscar for her performance in Shakespeare in Love, also directed by Madden (he seems to bring out the best in her), and that award was richly deserved. But here in Proof I believe she was every bit as good (in a different way) although she was only nominated for a Golden Globe award and did not win.

Another thing about this movie is that it is strangely affecting emotionally. You might find yourself misting up a bit as you watch. I know I did.

See this for Gwyneth Paltrow, a gifted actress giving one of her best performances, and for John Madden, a director who makes beautiful movies with style and finesse.
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PROOF is one of those rare films that transfers a superb play directly to the screen without losing a bit of the power of the play, but enhancing the story with the advantages of the camera. With a tough story like this one it takes a brilliant cast and director to fine-tune the work and in this instance it all works to perfection.

The story is well known from all the PR of the theatrical screening: recounting it in a review does not add or subtract the importance of the film or the experience of the viewer. The premise, mathematician Robert (Anthony Hopkins) and his caretaker daughter Catherine (Gweneth Paltrow) who also is an uncommonly bright 27-year-old mathematics mind and has spent the glowing years of her youth caring for her recently deceased father. They converse in flashbacks, a means of realizing the closeness of their bond emotionally, mentally, and probably parallel mental illness proclivities. Robert left notebooks filled with thoughts and clues to a complex mathematical proof and Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), a devoted admirer of Robert's genius, is organizing the thoughts and deciphering the meanings of Robert's scribblings. Catherine's estranged sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives to 'settle' the matters left by Robert's demise and becomes the camera that brings focus to the fact that Catherine has inherited not only her father's genius but his mental fragility as well. How this quartet - Robert, Catherine, Hal, Claire - serve to unravel the findings of Robert's (and Catherine's) legacy is the essence of this gripping tale.

A more powerful group of actors for this film would be difficult to find. One expects the brilliance of Paltrow's performance since she had time with the character on the stage, and Hopkins can toss these bizarre characters off with grace and aplomb. But it is the pleasure of seeing Davis and Gyllenhaal rise to the same level of expertise that makes the film glow. This is an example of ensemble acting of the highest form and director Madden conducts the performance with sensitivity and momentum. The result is a treasureable, intelligent, powerful film that challenges the mind while entertaining all the senses. Highly recommended. Grady Harp, February 06
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It's easy to dismiss "Proof" as a "Beautiful Mind 2." But it's a film that has stayed with me and left a lasting impression. For me, that's an indication of quality.

Director John Madden ("Capt. Corelli's Mandolin) re-unites with the star Gwyneth Paltrow from 1998's "Shakespeare in Love" that resulted in a Best Director nomination for him and a Best Actress Oscar for her. Paltrow got glowing reviews for her performance as Catherine in David Auburn's play on the West End stage in London. The mathematics-laden premise translates fairly well to screen.

At times we are confused. First, it seems that Anthony Hopkins is real and helping his daughter celebrate her birthday. Then we learn through her dialogue with Jake Gyllenhaal's character Hal that Catherine's father was a brilliant mathematician who suffered from mental illness and has died. Gyllenhaal who came off a very hot year with an Oscar nomination for "Brokeback Mountain" and a lead performance in "Jarheads" seems very likeable here. Even so, we're unsure if he's using Catherine or if he's cultivating a relationship.

There was a little film called "The Secret Life of Dentists" that starred Hope Davis as a dentist having an affair. She gave a complex albeit less than likeable performance, much as she does here as Claire, Catherine's sister who is persuaded that like their dad, Catherine is also losing her mind. With films like "The Daytrippers" & "Next Stop Wonderland," she's creating an interesting body of work.

Although there are some strange notes in the film such as Hal's band that seems to invade their party, it's the relationships between the characters that make the film memorable. A daughter's connection to her father that is strong can inspire her for a lifetime. Seeing Catherine discover her own brilliance and come to believe it is also quite moving. This was a little film that our local cinema refused to bring here to the large screen. It's well worth investigating on DVD. Enjoy!
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on August 24, 2006
Having seen the play (with Liza Weil as Catherine, using the same unique tone --melancholic/bitter/superior/anxious-- of voice that she uses on "Gilmore Girls"), I thought the movie would only be mediocre. Instead, I really enjoyed it. Such a contrast in characters, especially between Catherine and her older sister. I loved the scene on the porch when her sister is asking her if she tried the shampoo she bought for her. "It's supposed to make your hair healthy," she tells her.

"Hair's dead," Catherine replies.

But the sister goes on and on about how great it is, it's organic ("but organics can be chemicals," notes Catherine) and blah blah blah. So true. It's amazing how her sister can go on and on about such irrelevant things.

Grrrr to those who were skeptical that a young WOMAN could solve difficult proofs. Viewers can see how tough it is to live in the shadow of a genius parent (or sibling, for that matter - her sister was "successful" in her own way). It's rare for other people to accept you at (and above) that genius level, but sometimes it works the other way; if you have an older sibling who excels in some area, others might expect you to be just as smart.

But mostly, I think that if Catherine had been male, it would have been easier for many to view her as the legitimate author of the proof.

Hopkins was excellent. I'm never too thrilled with Paltrow, but she was ok for this one - though it was harder for me to accept her as a math genius at the start of the movie. By the end, I felt that she was somewhat on that level, but I think I replaced her with Liza Weil's exquisite, intelligent depression in my imagination.
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on July 28, 2006
Proof boasts prize-winning source material and an excellent cast. What more can one ask for?

The film stayed very true to the original stage play, telling the tale of a young woman named Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow), who dropped out of college to care for Robert, her mentally ill father (Anthony Hopkins) who also happens to be a famous mathematician. After Robert passes away, Catherine (already a little socially awkward), is lost, rambling around his old house by herself. Graduate student Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) requests her permission to sift through the copious notebooks that Robert produced during his decline, hoping to find the next mathematical breakthrough in their pages. Catherine assents, and the two begin a tentative relationship. When Catherine points Hal to a locked drawer in her father's study, he is thrilled to discover a very important, groundbreaking proof that he immediately attributes to her father. When Catherine divulges that she herself wrote it, both Hal and her estranged sister Claire (Hope Davis), who has flown from New York to Chicago to attend the funeral, doubt her assertion. Catherine already fears that, with her father's talent for math, she has also inherited his tendency towards madness. She reacts strongly to the betrayal, and Hal must try to prove that he does have faith in her.

What's interesting about the script is that the audience doesn't know until the end just which of the characters to believe. Did Catherine write the proof, or did she steal it from her ailing father? Did her father still have possession of his faculties in his decline, or was he incapable of writing the proof? Is Hal sticking around because he really likes Catherine, or does he want her to let her guard down just enough to allow him to make off with the mathematical prize he's looking for? This tension makes the film (and the play) work. The material's no slouch. David Auburn won both a Pulitzer and a Tony for the play this film is based on.

All the performances in this film were very strong. Paltrow particularly shined, rendering Catherine as shy, awkward, and afraid of her own potential talent/madness. I thought her treatment of the character was very original; I haven't seen her perform in a role like this before. She played this same role to stellar reviews on Broadway, and her reprisal of Catherine in the film is delicate and layered. I really enjoyed her.
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on May 31, 2006
There's a wonderful moment late in Proof where Catherine, Gwyneth Paltrow, says sadly to Hal, Jake Gyllenhaal, "I think I'm like my father." Hal, beaming, says, "You are."

What is so marvelous about this exchange is that both statements are correct, but the interaction is a case study in flawed data interpretation. Catherine means that she's afraid she is mad, like her father. Indeed there is evidence enough that at the very least she is emotionally fragile and will succumb to serious mental illness at some point. But Hal is looking right through her fears, he means that she is like her father in that she is a brilliant mathematician. Ironically it is perhaps the latter of the two possibilities that causes Catherine greater fear.

The other spellbinding moment is when she finally reads her father's great proof out loud to him, as he demands. Without spoiling it I'll just say that this brief scene illustrates the essential truth of the movie so powerfully that it is breathtaking.

Proof was originally a play, so the emphasis is on dialogue, beat, structure, nuance, and revelation. Director Madden also gave us Shakespeare In Love, with Paltrow, so you know from the start you are in for a quality production. Jake Gyllenhaal is faultless as a young man fearlessly going where a wiser man would not, because Paltrow's Catherine, while beguiling, is trouble. This is perhaps the movie's greatest power, and Paltrow gives the best performance I've ever seen her give.

Catherine is a woman of contradictions, strong yet brittle, selfless yet self-absorbed, generous yet resentful, brash yet timid. She maintains this highly nuanced state throughout the film, and even though we cannot understand her, (as she cannot understand herself), frequently become impatient with her, wonder if she put herself in the role of victim in order to wallow in it and use it as a weapon against others, we never stop caring about her and hoping she'll be all right.

This is a slightly different Paltrow, a little older, a little tougher, and her performance is incredibly confident - really a pleasure. About Anthony Hopkins what can one say, he is such a fire horse that at this point he must carry around a handful of performances like this in his hip pocket at all times - that said, he is absolutely on target.

The sleeper in this movie is Hope Davis as Claire, Catherine's sister. She is Catherine's anti-matter, and their confrontations reveal much not just about them but also about their father. With her "To-Do" lists, which she neatly checks off, her clipped speech, and precise thoughts about Catherine's future, Claire is the Uber-Yuppie from heck we all fear. The irony is that once we get beyond our initial dread we see that she has some valid points. Even the most elegant solution must be tested, Claire helps. A rich and deeply satisfying film.
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on January 13, 2006
As she reaches the ripe old age of twenty-seven, Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) struggles to come to grips with the death of her father, a brilliant mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) who suffered from mental illness. Inheriting her father's genius and passion for numbers, Catherine left her own work five years earlier to care for her father through the past five years of his life. Catherine is also afraid that with her father's brilliance, she is doomed to share his end, a concern exacerbated by her estranged sister Claire (Hope Davis). Working with Catherine to sort through her father's notebooks is Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), a PhD student. The film is about the discovery of a mathematician and the authorship of a brilliant proof.

Hollywood portrayals of university campuses (er, campi) are often something of a stretch, but I found that in "Proof," academia had a realistic feel. The campus itself is easy enough to show, with grand old buildings and manicured grounds, but to get a clear understanding, one needs to look into the buildings, into the professors' offices and the discussions they have with their students. One needs to hear the students calling home to check on aging parents and dealing with conflicting demands on their time and attention. All of these elements were captured and presented effectively.

Performances were uniformly well-done: Paltrow and Hopkins made for a convincing daughter-father pair, with the daughter's concern for her father leading her to choose between her own brilliant career and the care of her father and the father's mixed feelings of comfort from his daughter's presence and frustration at her apparent unwillingness to continue her own promising research.

The film carries with it a certain sadness and loss; after making several lifetimes' accomplishments in several fields, Catherine's father starts "to get sick," at about the age of twenty-six. The rest of his life was a downhill struggle with mental illness and he could be seen as yet another example that in mathematics, practitioners finish their best work not long after completing their PhDs. I could not help but be reminded of "Losing It," a Rush song:

Sadder still to watch it die

Than never to have known it.

For you, the blind who once could see,

The bell tolls for thee.

But rather than focusing on the loss of a brilliant mathematician, the film places his work and his life in context. While "the machinery" is gone, the man inspires and drives and his earlier work endures, to be used as foundation for another generation of mathematicians.

It's a wonderful story, presented well on-screen, and it's good to see scientists being seen as something cool for general audiences.
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on August 11, 2006
Anyone who has ever been a caregiver to a family member who was chronically ill or suffering from a fatal disease and then lost them to that illness or some other health condition can really appreciate and identify with this movie. I loved Gwenyth's portrayal of a daughter that loved her father so much that she felt it was her responsibility to take care of him even though she was sacrificing her own life. The story was right on the money as far as being how those situations go sometimes in life. The sister who came into town for the funeral and tried to be bossy and pushy was also very true to life. This is a good movie and I recommend it highly.
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