2006-07-13 10:33


After five long years of caring for him, Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) is trying to cope with the death of her father, Robert (Anthony Hopkins), a mathematical genius who slowly lost his sanity. She secretly fears that she has inherited his brilliance and madness, but must face other problems. Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), one of his ex-students, wants to search through Robert's 40 odd notebooks hoping to find a revolutionary piece of mathematics. Meanwhile Catherine's highly organised sister Claire (Hope Davis) flies in to 'sort out' everything - including Catherine.


Love her or hate her, Gwyneth Paltrow deserved her Golden Globe nomination for this performance. She infuses the sad and exhausted Catherine with a striking vulnerability. After five minutes you forget it's her, only seeing a young woman who is awkward, unsure and terrified of going insane.

There is a particularly painful scene where Catherine realises that her father is not going to get better. And she can only watch helplessly as he loses his mind.

Director John Madden obviously brings out the best in Paltrow, having directed her in the Oscar-winning Shakespeare In Love. In fact, Paltrow easily outshines Anthony Hopkins, who is really just going through the motions as Robert. He is, after all, a dab hand at playing disturbed characters.

Hope Davis on the other hand is exceptional as the super-efficient and controlling older sister, Claire. A compulsive "To-Do" list-maker, she has spent her life striving for order and fighting against the chaos her father's madness has created. And all she wants now is to make Catherine's life "right" again.

Such nuances are brought to the fore thanks to the intimacy created by a minimum number of locations. There are no sweeping romantic shots of universities (a la A Beautiful Mind). Everything is very real.

There are also clever touches of humour, a mathematician rock band being one of them. Another is the revelation that math geeks party - a lot. Some even take drugs and stay up all night talking about... equations, integers and proofs. Ha!

Unfortunately, Jake Gyllenhaal is completely miscast as Hal. He is unconvincing as an academic, which is particularly disappointing after his superb turn in Brokeback Mountain. He and Gwyneth do have some chemistry, but not the right kind and not enough.

Another weakness is that Proof never thoroughly investigates any of the issues it raises. Catherine may have inherited both her father's genius and madness; she and Claire are estranged; Hal might be using her. It all feels rather disparate at times.

There is also a serious lack of any real mathematics. And although that might be good for some of us, any serious math lovers will be disappointed.

Despite this, the story is gripping. Probably because David Auburn, the writer of the original Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, also wrote the screenplay. John Madden is an excellent director, with a lightness of touch that stops the film from becoming melodramatic. That said, it still lacks a strong central theme to pull it together.

Ultimately, the focus of this film is Paltrow's performance, especially since there is hardly a scene without her. And, very surprisingly, it is her and Hope Davis that make Proof an engagingly honest tale that is definitely worth seeing.

- Amanda Whitehouse

Gwyneth Paltrow proves that she can act in this film version of the popular West End play.

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