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Proof (2005)
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by John Rice

"The subtlety of greatness"
5 stars

In any given year you can look at a roster of the most praised films and you will generally see a lot of BIG. Big stories, big ideas, big budgets, big productions. Unfortunately, while that may drive impressive box office numbers, it seldom produces truly engrossing, thought provoking results. Grand, impressive topics constantly get the attention. It can be the story of a larger than life individual (Walk the Line & Ray), political and religious conflict (Munich), racial conflict (Crash), corporate greed (The Constant Gardener), sexual identity (Brokeback Mountain) or various other "substantial" subjects, but what is behind it isn't always that impressive once the dust has settled and some time to reflect has been taken. So, it is films like Proof which are almost completely overlooked and sadly misunderstood, even though, for my money, it is the best of 2005.

Gwyneth Paltrow plays Catherine, a 27 year old woman who has spent the last five years taking sole responsibility of looking after her father Robert (Anthony Hopkins) who has recently died. During that time, Robert, who was a mathematician of historical genius, had descended into complete madness after over 20 years of instability. Catherine has now become a bit unstable herself, possibly because of her years looking after her father, or, as she fears, because she is following in his path, particularly since she is the same age he was when he became sick. To add a bit more to Catherine's stress, her overdriven, meticulous older sister Claire (Hope Davis) is arriving in the morning for their father's funeral. In the meantime, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) one of Robert's former students, is looking through more than 100 notebooks Robert filled with mathematical proofs in his final years to see if there is anything approaching the significance of his earlier work.

Eventually, Catherine gives Hal the key to a locked drawer in Robert's desk which holds a notebook with a 40 page mathematic proof which would seem to indicate that during one lucid year three years prior, Robert had done work of such significance that it dwarfed the work which had originally made him famous. The problem is, it's not clear Robert actually produced the proof. One thing is certain, who ever did produce it will go down in history as one of the greatest mathematic minds of all time.

So, what is so engrossing about a movie dealing with the authorship of a 40 page mathematic proof? The brilliance lies in the fact that it is not really about what it seems to be about on the surface. After all, the proof itself does not appear until the movie is half over, so maybe there is just a slight chance that is not really what the story is about. Instead, Proof is a drama of the most pure variety, not the mystery or "Thriller" it is sometimes dubbed to be. It is a character study of four people, all with significantly different personalities, a rumination on the characteristics of creativity and genius, and a quiet examination of what motivates people during both ordinary and extraordinary situations. It is also among a small group of the greatest screenplays to appear this decade, including Talk to Her, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and the best of them all, Far from Heaven.

Several peripheral characters are included in the story, but the true focus comes down to four of them. Robert is shown the least, and thankfully, he is not portrayed as a raving genius, storming through the house, terrorizing his daughter, as most movies would choose to do. Most of the time he is calm and thoughtful, for reasons explained in the opening scene. Hal is a 26 year old Mathematics Professor who is able to admire Robert's genius and deal with his insanity, but is obviously never going to match his skills. Claire is the older sister who covers up the insecurities she and Catherine share by being overbearing and displaying a remarkable skill for brushing off anything bothersome.

In the end, the story revolves around Catherine, who is portrayed in a wonderful performance by Paltrow. The answer to what is really going on with Catherine is where the meat of the story resides. Is she simply feeble, as Claire seems so anxious to believe? Is she suffering the consequences of taking care of her father for the last five years? Most likely, different viewers will each arrive at their own, differing conclusions, but rest assured, Proof is a story which will leave active viewers considering the many different possibilities for days to come. The story is quite simple on the surface, but appearances are definitely deceptive. This is not a literal bit of story telling, but a grand allegory wrapped up in 4 characters and brilliant writing. It should come as no surprise that Proof began as a Pulitzer winning play and a Tony winning stage drama on Broadway, with Paltrow playing the lead character in the London production, since it has "Stage Drama" written all over it. Unfortunately, the movie version was usurped by the apparent selfishness and greed of producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who were in the process of leaving their production company, Miramax, as Proof was supposed to be coming to theaters. In their zeal to see that Miramax distributor Walt Disney didn't profit unduly from their work, they effectively buried it in a marketing fiasco and it has gone almost completely unnoticed.

This review originally appeared on Slacker-Reviews.com

Comparisons between Proof and A Beautiful Mind (Russell Crowe) are natural, but the two films are quite different. A Beautiful Mind is the type of literal storytelling that is far more common in movies, where Proof is anything but literal. With one, the story begins and ends with what is shown on the screen. With the other, virtually everything is symbolic of something else. It may require more work from the viewer, but the effort is well worth it.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=12758&reviewer=373
originally posted: 05/16/06 03:58:19
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OFFICIAL SELECTION: 2005 Toronto Film Festival For more in the 2005 Toronto Film Festival series, click here.

User Comments

1/20/14 mona maggio was this about the same math professor in a beautiful mind? 3 stars
5/09/11 Stephanie Love this movie. Like the sequel to A Beautiful Mind! 4 stars
1/16/09 Shaun Wallner Interesting Story! 4 stars
10/15/07 R.W. Welch Adeptly written drama about crack(ers) mathematicians. Good casting. 4 stars
7/27/07 fools♫gold Originally and strangely exciting! 4 stars
5/02/07 swamprat Loved the play, and to really appreciate the movie- see the play 4 stars
11/24/06 sokukodo Excellent acting all around. 5 stars
8/20/06 dpl Good acting, but a story that goes nowhere... gives nothing. 2 stars
7/17/06 Katie This is a awesome movie but I would like to know if they are coming with a second one 5 stars
7/13/06 Taylor Fladgate Excellent performances 4 stars
5/17/06 michael pretty fair 4 stars
5/17/06 Gavin Bamber tear-jerker 4 stars
4/21/06 Indrid Cold Shakespeare in Love notwithstanding, I didn't realize Paltrow isn't just a pretty face. 4 stars
4/13/06 Kendra Gordon Its a a short movie and has a bad ending it doesn't 4 stars
3/19/06 Phil M. Aficionado Good solid effort by all, but not a particularly gripping thing. GP is excellent; Jake too 4 stars
3/03/06 Simon Excellently performed, but really, what else is there to write home about? don't ovranalyze 3 stars
10/15/05 jcjs i liked this more than 'Beautiful Mind' or 'Goodwill Hunting' which i thiink is contrived 5 stars
10/03/05 E. Northam Expect a filmed play. Brilliantly written; perfectly cast; superbly performed. 4 stars
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  16-Sep-2005 (PG-13)
  DVD: 14-Feb-2006

  10-Feb-2006 (12A)


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