Kind of like A Beautiful Mind but with Gwyneth Paltrow shouting a lot.
What enjoyment you can get from Proof will largely depend on your tolerance levels of Gwyneth Paltrow and Anthony Hopkins' screaming. Heightened emotions in this family are expressed through volume levels. I mean, it's sensibly placed, reasonable, justifiable screaming, but it's not a particularly pleasant thing to listen to at the best of times. Let us assume for the moment that you have can stomach the odd bout of excessive loudicity, or have prepared yourself with adequate ear plugs.
I want to say that Proof is a mass-market version of Pi minus the thumping soundtrack with a love story tacked onto it, but that's mainly because I really like Pi and want to mention it at every relevant opportunity. Thing is, it's never particularly relevant to anything else but seeing as this does feature the tortuous mental gymnastics of theoretical maths I figure I might as well dust off the reference. It's rather more useful to say that Proof sits as a shameless hybrid of A Beautiful Mind and The Talented Mr. Ripley. Oscar does love his mental health issues, dontcha know.
However, we're rather getting ahead of ourselves. Catherine (Paltrow) is upset. Understandably so, after all her father Robert (Hopkins) has just died after a struggle with a delusional mental condition, although the simple fact that he's dead isn't going to stop Catherine talking to him. That he's replying casts a worrying pallor on her mental state. While maths Uni chappie Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal, who we just can't get out of out multiplexes these days) is raking through endless notebooks filled with nonsensical ramblings hoping for a lucid moment of genius, Catherine's sister Claire (Hope Davis) is trying to dissuade the 'tired and emotional' Catherine from staying in Chicago to resume the study of maths abandoned previously to care for her father.
So we have Catherine's relationship with her father examined in flashback, her romance with Hal and conflict with Claire in the here and now, and the small matter of an uncovered proof of some obscure, yet vitally important, prime number related theorem inside one of Robert's notebooks that Catherine said she wrote. Hoopla! Something for everyone! Especially if you like shouting.
Due to a disinterest in the matter bordering on the intense, I've no inclination to find out if the David Auburn stage play Proof came before or after A Beautiful Mind and The Talented Mr. Ripley and their sources. If it came later, it might be accurate to start throwing words like 'cynical' and 'derivative' and 'hegemony' around. Well, maybe not hegemony, but that's mainly because I really like the word hegemony and want to mention it at every relevant opportunity. That aside, it's difficult to watch Proof without thinking that it's a little too contrived not to be shooting for the same audience. Nothing really wrong with that, but you get the feeling that Proof is trying rather desperately to be weighty and important, which doesn't necessarily gel with the above commercial meanderings that might or might not exist. Look, you don't pay me enough for either accuracy or dedication, so stop whining.
Actually, that Pi reference might not be so off base after all. There, Max Cohen's faced with a choice between embracing his 'gift', although it's destroying him or turning away from it. Here, Catherine seems to face a similar choice between submitting to Claire's mundane visions of life (and an implied but hardly likely guarantee of stability) and Hal's path to mathematical glory (with a warning of possible future instability). The difference between Proof's choices seems to be between pleasing your family or pleasing yourself; Pi is a little more esoteric and clearly better, as it has scope for drilling one's brain, but the parallels are clear. Sort of. If you squint a bit.
All of which is largely irrelevant to the issue at hand, that being, "Is this any good?" It's nice to see Hopkins not saddled with a silly accent, and it's a reasonable shouting based turn from him. Paltrow gets to both shout and cry, thus showing twice her usual range while Gyllenhaal is saddled with a thankless 'nice, bland and inoffensive guy' routine that's essentially ignorable. Still, even when acting on autopilot they've all got enough talent to produce something watchable, and that's what you get.
It's a decent script, decent performances and decent direction from John Madden, ex-U.S. Football coach and memorable colour commentator of many a broadcast. Ahh, so many fond memories of his raspily digitised voice in the ol' Megadrive Madden series. "He'll remember that number!" Yes, John. Yes, he will. Good show from the big guy, who knew he had it in him?
So, Proof then is decent, and, above remarks excepted, unremarkable. You could rather easily live the rest of your life in complete ignorance of this film and be none the worse off for it. In fact, I figure you could rather easily watch this film then ignore it utterly for the rest of your life and be none the worse off for it. This isn't the same as saying it's a poor film, as it is not a poor film, but it's certainly not an essential film.
Were I in the business of passing quantifiable judgements, I'd award this 3/5 TippyMarks.
Anthony Hopkins (Robert)
Jake Gyllenhaal (Hal)
Hope Davis (Claire)
What do you mean it's not that John Madden? Well ... damn.