I can’t tell a mathematical proof from a hole in my head, but I know movies and “Proof” (Miramax)
is a very good movie. Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play, the film gets the more serious, award-baiting autumn
movie season off to a great start. In “Proof,” Gwyneth Paltrow (“Shakespeare in Love”) plays Catherine, a young
woman grieving the recent death of her renowned mathematics professor father (played in flashbacks by Anthony Hopkins).
Catherine lived with her father and served as his caretaker during his final years. We gradually learn that he suffered
a mental break after his early years of academic success, and that despite some later improvement he needed Catherine’s
As a result, Catherine has had to put her own
mathematical talent and desires on hold. Increasingly isolated and cynical, many in the university community where her
father taught and lived have feared for Catherine’s own sanity. But those concerns really come to a head when
Catherine’s estranged sister (played by Hope Davis) returns for their father’s funeral and herself doubts Catherine’s
grip on reality.
Catherine briefly finds support against her sister from their father’s graduate assistant
(played by Jake Gyllenhaal). But he too questions Catherine’s sanity when she presents him with a brilliant, potentially
historic mathematical proof she claims to have written herself. “Proof”
is essentially a three-character story, and its theatrical roots are evident in its structure and smart dialogue. Director
John Madden does a fine job though of moving the plot beyond the confines of the father’s house and into Chicago-area
campuses, churches and shopping malls.
seeing her give several good performances in various movies, I’ve never been a big fan of Gwyneth Paltrow. Watching
“Proof,” however, she blew me away with her emotionally textured, often raw and unpredictable performance.
It is very easy to believe her here as a potentially brilliant but potentially mad woman, and the film raises interesting
questions about whether genius as well as insanity can be inherited from one’s parent(s). Hopkins, Davis and Gyllenhaal
all give fine performances and have almost as much screen time as Paltrow, but the movie belongs to her. At times, Paltrow’s
emotional intensity reminded me of the intensity Elizabeth Taylor brought to the film versions of such plays as “Who’s
Afraid of Virginia Woolf” and “Suddenly Last Summer.”
Intellectually and emotionally satisfying, you won’t
need much “Proof” to realize this could be one of the year’s best movies.