March 12, 2006
Adapted from the award-winning play of the same name, Proof (2005) should have been a slam dunk come awards season and yet it went largely ignored despite the pedigree of being a Miramax film, being directed by John Madden of Shakespeare in Love (1998) fame and starring Academy Award winners Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins. So, what went wrong with this adaptation?
Catherine (Paltrow)’s father (Hopkins) has recently died from an aneurysm. She had lived with and took care of him for five years. He was once a brilliant mathematician but over the years a degenerative mental illness rendered him a recluse. Hal (Gyllenhaal) is a university student going through Catherine’s father’s 100+ notebooks to try and decipher his eccentric thought processes and to see if anything of substance can be found in them. The film flashes back to when he was alive and explores her relationship with him.
Catherine’s family life is dysfunctional to say the least. She has a strained relationship with her sister, Claire (Davis) and lives in the shadow of her father. Claire is the antithesis to Catherine: she’s well-organized, positive and outgoing. Through sheer force of will, she gets her sister out of the house and being active so that she isn’t caught up in wallowing in her own misery.
Gwyneth Paltrow turns in another fine performance as an exhausted woman, drained from spending five years of her life taking care of her sick father. She fears that her own academic career has already peaked like it did with her father long ago. Catherine secretly fears that she will eventually succumb to the same madness that destroyed him and has to come to terms with the fact that she may share a lot of her father’s brilliance.
She is overwhelmed by the sadness of her death but Hal’s presence helps her cope with it as he tries to reach her through math and her father’s notebooks. Jake Gyllenhaal is also good as her romantic interest and they have nice chemistry together. He is able to transcend the stereotypical bookish nerd much as he did in October Sky (1999).
Ultimately, a solid cast of talented actors are wasted on lifeless direction that feels like Madden is on auto-pilot. This apathy is contagious because we end up not caring that much either. It is hard to squeeze out a lot of memorable drama out of the discovery of a mathematical proof (A Beautiful Mind excepted) and Madden is just not up to the task.
There is an audio commentary by director John Madden. He had done a production of the play in London with Paltrow which provided a good foundation for this film version. He talks about how the stage version prepared them for the film. Most importantly, it demonstrated to Madden that the play could be adapted. He talks about how he tried to avoid the stagy feel of a play and open things up using film techniques to convey Catherine’s state of mind. Madden speaks quite knowledgeably about the film’s themes and his filmmaking process.
“From Stage to Screen: The Making of Proof” is your standard press kit material that mixes cast and crew soundbites with clips from the movies.
There are three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Madden. He puts the footage in the context of the whole movie and explains why it was cut.