Dir:John Madden. US-UK. 2005. 100mins.
Anefficient drama, rather than a memorable one, John Madden's Proofbenefits, for once, from its theatrical origins. Madden directed GwynethPaltrow in the main role of David Auburn's stage play at the Donmar Warehousein London, and the familiarity of both director and actress with the materialcomes through in the confident style.
Itis also apparent in Paltrow's credible, nuanced performance as a smart youngwoman whose emotional life, academic career and sanity have been compromised bythe years she has spent caring for her elderly father, a mentally ill mathsgenius.
Oscarnods are more than possible for Paltrow and for the polished script, whichdisproves the rule that playwrights should not adapt their own creations forthe screen (Auburn co-wrote with Rebecca Miller, writer-director of TheBallad Of Jack And Rose).
Thefilm's demographic and international box-office niche is likely to match thatof another recent theatrical adaptation, Closer (which enjoyed two Oscarnominations in the acting categories) - though Proof is less emotionallytricksy, and more reassuring in its dramatic resolution. It is released in theUS on Dec 26, following festival slots in both Venice and Toronto.
Wefirst see lank-haired Catherine (Paltrow) as she flicks through trashy TVchannels in a house that seems too big for her. Her father Robert (AnthonyHopkins) - a maths genius and university professor who gradually lost his mind,has just died.
Inthe play, Catherine's fears for her own sanity and the details of herrelationship with her father are brought out through dialogue, but here theyare grounded in a series of flashback scenes that mesh elegantly with thepresent-day action.
Thisrevolves around the attempts of Hal (a suitably moon-faced Jake Gyllenhaal), astudent of her father's, to find some fragments of mathematical genius in the103 notebooks full of unhinged ravings that Robert left upstairs; and theattempts of Catherine's perfectly-coiffed sister Claire (Hope Davis, good inthe film's one overtly satirical role) to take Catherine back to New York afterthe funeral, for a little rest, relaxation and psychiatric treatment.
Thetitle most obviously applies to the central mystery: the authorship of acomplex mathematical proof which (in classic maths-for-laymen style, a la A BeautifulMind or Good Will Hunting) is going to provide the internationalmaths community with their biggest thrill since Fermat's last theorem gotsolved. But it also points to the contrast between the neat certainties ofmathematics and the blurred outlines of emotional truths.
Gooddramatic structure is a pleasure in itself, and the film delivers on thisfront, elaborating the front story of the burgeoning Catherine-Hal relationshipas it fills in the back story of Catherine's troubled rapport with her father,racking up the tension of the present-day authorship mystery as it meanderstowards an explanation in the past.
Themain location, the house Catherine shared with her father, is a warm, clutteredwood-lined refuge against the wintry cold, rain and snow outside.
Lightingworks with an autumnal colour palette to bring out the contrast between thewarm but ultimately stifling interior and the cold outside, which neverthelessneeds to be embraced if Catherine is ever going to move on.
Hart Sharp Entertainment
James D Stern
John N Hart Jr
based on the play by David Auburn