2 October 2005 | evanston_dad
"Proof" Adds Up
I love a movie in which every moment of it feels authentic, and "Proof" is that kind of movie. Critics have had a fairly mediocre response to the film, so I was somewhat surprised that I liked it so much. But it's easily one of the best movies I've seen this year.
I didn't see the David Auburn play on which the movie is based, and maybe many of the film's detractors have: screen adaptations of favorite plays often seem to dilute them to the detriment of the story. But if this movie is worse than its stage counterpart, it must have made one damn fine play.
The acting in this film is its major attribute, and director John Madden is wise enough to realize the talent of his ensemble and stand out of their way. He plays a bit with chronology and lets the pieces of his story click into place much like a math puzzle; I don't know whether or not this is original to the film or borrowed from the play, but either way it works well. But mostly, he lets the actors strut their stuff, and the four principals make the most of meaty roles.
Most of the acclaim has been falling, and rightly so, to Gwyneth Paltrow, who gives a full-bodied, textured and powerful performance as Catherine, who has inherited her genius at math from her father and is deathly afraid that she may have inherited his madness as well. I don't know that Paltrow has yet had a role as substantial as this one, and she flexes her acting chops in a way I have not seen her do outside of her underrated performance in "Sylvia." Hope Davis matches her scene for scene as the astringent older sister; it's refreshing to see Davis break away from the mousy, mealy persona she so frequently adopts and play this crisp, overwhelming character. The male actors have less to do overall, but the roles are perfectly cast. Jake Gyllenhaal is ripe for stardom, and this may be the year that brings it. Anthony Hopkins has been dismissed as hammy here, but I think he does an effective job of portraying mental illness, and creates heartbreaking moments that could have been ruined had they been played differently.
"Proof" feels entirely honest about the dynamics of dysfunctional families; you just know David Auburn is writing from personal experience. Like Robert Redford's "Ordinary People," if you have any exposure to similar family dynamics, you know the team that put the film together got everything just right. "Proof" also creates a parallel between mathematics and the messiness of life that makes one re-evaluate the rigidity of what always appears to be an exact science. As one must accept a level of ambiguity in life, one must also be willing to make leaps of faith in mathematics, because nothing can be 100% proved.
I highly recommend this film. It's satisfying on both an intellectual and emotional level. And any movie that can make math exciting to me gets an automatic thumbs up.