Proof is the rare average film that isn’t average throughout. It has spikes of real intellectual greatness and innovation. It has concepts that are ideal for a masterpiece. It also exists as a movie that is 75% poor, boring, and tired. Put it all in the blender and you end up in Averageville, sipping lattes at the “average cafe.”
Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine plays the daughter of a math genius (Anthony Hopkins) whom has lost his mind. Flashbacks are used aplenty as Catherine nurses him throughout his twilight years of dementia. The conflict involves a piece of work found after her father’s death. This mathematical “proof” could be evidence that her father pulled off one more math masterpiece. Alternatively it could show that Catherine is the new genius in the family. The film is its strongest when it takes a look at our obligation to our parents, and what we inherit in both mental acuity and frailties from them. Catherine at her father’s funeral full of anger and resentment is wonderful cinema and should have set the tone for something special. Instead, Proof plods through aging, relationships, genius, and some math on the way towards the inevitable (and easy) conclusion.
The acting is superb throughout Proof. Jake Gyllenhaal, as one of Catherine’s father’s former students, is steady and when he becomes a love interest it doesn’t feel forced. Hope Davis provides just enough annoyance and support to be believable as Catherine’s sister. Most likely David Auburn’s screenplay let them down. It doesn’t have enough spark or plot to be a complete movie. I’ve read reviews that say the play was well done which makes perfect sense. Most stage plays can exist on a much smaller plane and still be highly successful. Proof is so quiet on the big screen you sometimes forget it is on.
The structural problems of Proof are based in math, namely the film takes too long to get from point A to point B. All math puns aside, the film feels almost pointless at times. You may find yourself in the theater thinking, “Let’s wrap this up people,” but trust me when I say they won’t listen. I watched the back of people’s heads in the movie theater for a bit too, just to see what someone’s head looks like when basked in cinema glow. They probably won’t put that on the poster, eh? I’m not sure when director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) assumed you could make a movie out of transitional scenes but he was only half right. Proof proves you can make a movie that way, but it also proves the movie will be tragically slow.
At the end of the day Proof is worth seeing (despite its flaws) if you are a movie fan. It has some interesting concepts and 20 minutes of a highly effective movie. Make sure you go in patient though, go in fully Zen. If times get tough you can always fall back on looking at people’s heads.