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Proof Review

By Shawn McKenzie 09/28/2005

When I was in high school and college, I hated math.  To this day, I donít understand it very well, and I have to rely on calculators and my fingers.  Even though I love the acting in it, the CBS show ďNumb3rsĒ goes over my head.  I also hated the 1998 movie Pi (though the 1997 movie Good Will Hunting wasnít too bad.)  When I saw the movie Proof, I was bored, despite some very good performances.

Catherine Llewellyn (Gwyneth Paltrow), a now 27-year old woman (her birthday is on the next say), was a talented mathematician who dropped out of the graduate program at Northwestern University to care for her father Robert (Anthony Hopkins.)  The 63-year-old Robert had been a world-famous University of Chicago mathematics professor, but he eventually began showing signs of mental degeneration, so Catherine gave up everything to care for him in his home.  In the past three years of caring for him, she worried about her own mental health, and if she had inherited the same condition from her father.  As the movie opens, she has a conversation with Robert about her birthday.  The problem isÖhe died a week before that from a brain aneurysm.  The next scene shows Robertís former student and now teacher Hal Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal) who wants to go through Robertís 103 notebooks he left behind in hopes that a groundbreaking proof might be found among them, which might write his ticket to any math program in the country.  Unfortunately, most of the notebooks appear to be incoherent ramblings, but he does find one that talked about Robertís feelings for Catherine, and he intended to give it to her as a birthday gift.  Catherine thinks that Hal is stealing from him, and she calls the cops, but she changes her mind later when he explains himself (she forgets to call the cops back though, and they show up later, long after he had already left.)  The next day, Catherineís Wall Street currency analyst sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives from New York to help her settle their fatherís estate and possibly bring Catherine back to New York with her.  She thinks that Catherine might be having mental problems as well, so she wants to keep an eye on her there.  At Robertís funeral, Catherine makes an embarrassing impromptu eulogy about him, and proceeds to get drunk at the post-funeral party afterwards.  Halís math-geek rock band is playing, where he is the drummer (though one of their original songs is just three minutes of silence, which is supposed to mean something to mathematicians.)  He is attracted to Catherine, and in her drunken state, she sleeps with him.  They wake up the next day in love, and she gives him the key to Robertís desk, which contains another notebook.  When Hal goes through the notebook, he finds that it is a potentially revolutionary mathematical proof (a ďproofĒ is the validation of a mathematical theory dealing with prime numbers.  YesÖI had to look it up.)  Catherine tells him that she wrote it though, and he has a hard time believing it, which further depresses her.  Throughout the movie, we get flashbacks of her interactions with her father and other people, like Professor Bhandari (Roshan Seth), her NU professor, who have conflicting accounts of her supposed genius.

John Madden directed the movie (he also directed Paltrow in the 1998 Best Picture winner Shakespeare in Love, in which she won a Best Actress Oscar), and David Auburn and Rebecca Miller wrote the screenplay, based on the stage play written by Auburn.  The play won the 2001 Pulitzer Prize for Drama and the 2001 Tony Award for Best Play, Best Director (Daniel Sullivan), and Best Actress (Mary Louise Parker.)  I didnít see the play myself, but if the movie adaptation was as dull as the stage production, I might not have shelled out the money to see it.

Paltrow played the same part in the London production of the play.  She does a great job here, but Iím beginning to wonder why she is playing these boring, depressed characters, like the ones in 2002ís Possession and 2003ís Sylvia.  Both Hopkins and Davis are practically phoning it in, but they do a great job at using that phone.  Gyllenhaal is excellent, and he may one day see an Oscar on his shelf (but not necessarily for this movie.)

It all comes down to your tastes I guess.  YesÖProof is not just about math, but the exploration of the relationship between a daughter and her ever maddening father, but with all of the math talk in it, coupled with the depression aspect (I hate movies that portray depression, like 2002ís The Hours), it just didnít do it for me.  I guess that I need proof that the movie was interesting, since I couldnít find it when I watched it.


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