Gwyneth Paltrow is brilliant in John Madden’s stage-to-screen Proof.
Buoyed by compelling performances, spiffy editing, beautiful photography and tight direction, the adaptation of David Auburn’s hit play Proof by director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) is a satisfying watch. Not least because of actress Gwyneth Paltrow’s emotional performance, which is her best work since teaming up with Madden in Love, a role for which she controversially took home the best actress Oscar in 1998. Those who think Paltrow’s win was a fluke should check this one out for proof of the opposite.
She plays Catherine, the 27-year-old daughter of a legendary mathematician named Robert (Anthony Hopkins, Silence of the Lambs), who recently died after many years of declining lucidity and usefulness. Catherine has been devoting the past years of her life to taking care of Robert, after her condescending sister Claire (a scenestealing Hope Davis, Next Stop Wonderland) moved to New York. Cathy continues to talk to the dead Robert, and begins to fear that she will inherit his insanity—and genius for math. The socially maladjusted and disheveled Catherine is in no condition to deal with other people, but that doesn’t keep away Robert’s former student Hal (a likeable Jake Gyllenhaal, Donnie Darko). He also noses around the house, looking for remnants of Robert’s supposedly groundbreaking theories. Further complicating matters is Claire, who returns to Chicago for Robert’s funeral—and swoops in planning to sell the house and put Catherine into a mental institution. The dramatic tension hits a breaking point when Catherine claims she has come up with a possibly revolutionary mathematical proof, but evidence points to Robert being its author. The film thus slowly reveals itself as a surprising and tender dramatic movie.
Gwyneth Paltrow is superb as she effortlessly inhabits Catherine with seething anger and trembling tenderness (especially in the love scene). She is always best when her roles are less subdued and more empowering, as Paltrow usually keeps her dramatic expressions to the minimum, and her Catherine here is pitch perfect. Anthony Hopkins is also good as the mad professor on the verge, while Jake Gyllenhaal lends solid, if forgettable, support as the earnest and ambitious Hal. But the film’s other strength is the central dynamic between Paltrow and Hope Davis, completely credible as sisters and sharp in their own rights. Claire’s concern hidden under a layer of efficiency, and Cathy’s common sense lost under all that instability, ultimately comes through in the film.
Matched by first rate editing and photography by Mick Audsley (Dirty Pretty Things) and Alwin Kuchler (Morvern Callar) respectively, Proof adds up to a satisfying emotional experience worthy of the hit play.

Terry Ong
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Opening Date: 
Thursday, January 12, 2006
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