Reviewed by GREG KING.
While films like A Beautiful Mind and Good Will Hunting may have made maths seem both exciting and sexy, this adaptation of David Auburn’s play about the authorship of a complex mathematical formula seems stodgy and stage bound. Co-written by Auburn and rebecca Miller (Personal Velocity), Proof is certainly articulate and wordy, and delivers some lofty ideas and emotionally charged moments. However, British director John Madden (best known for the Oscar winning Shakespeare In Love) doesn’t do much to open the drama out from its original stage settings, and the whole exercise may prove a bit too theatrical for some audiences.
Noted mathematician Robert Llewellyn (Anthony Hopkins) was a genius who revolutionised several theoretical fields before he was 22. But the last few years of his life have been spent in a state of mental fugue and decline. His emotionally fragile duaghter Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) abandoned her own ambitions to remain at home and nurse him for five years. After his death, Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), his protégé and graduate student, goes through his extensive collection of notebooks looking for some signs of coherent thought and new ideas amongst the scribbles. When he uncovers a complex formula involving prime numbers, Hal suspects that it was written by Robert and offers evidence of some lucid thoughts during a brief period of recovery. When Catherine reluctantly admits that she wrote it, doubts are raised, particularly about her own state of sanity.
Catherine also worries that she may be slipping away into the same dark spaces her father occupied in the declining years before his death. Meanwhile, her over-achieving, obsessive and anal-retentive older sister Claire (Hope Davis) arrives, and plans to take her back to new York where she can be watched and placed into care when the need arises.
With most of its action confined to the Llewellyn house, Proof remains largely stage bound and claustrophobic. Its exploration of the nature of mental illness, and the question of whether genius and madness are hereditary provide a few moments of emotional fireworks.
The performances of the small, central cast are all superb. Madden directed Paltrow in the British stage production, and it seems the pair are repeating their collaboration for the screen here. The often maligned Paltrow turns in a fine performance in what is the meatiest role of her recent screen career, which should briefly silence her many detractors. Hopkins delivers a bombastic performance in the sort of cantankerous old man role he could play in his sleep, but his character is underwritten and sadly lacks depth.
Gyllenhaal again proves one of the most versatile and reliable young actors around with another sensational performance of great range and emotional depth. His cocky maths nerd here is a vastly different character to both the physical, buffed-up and bloodthirsty marine of Jarhead, and the conflicted cowboy from Brokeback Mountain.