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Proof DVD Review

"Proof" (2005) movie poster Proof

Theatrical Release: September 16, 2005 / Running Time: 100 Minutes / Rating: PG-13

Director: John Madden / Writers: David Auburn (play & screenplay), Rebecca Miller (screenplay)

Cast: Gwyneth Paltrow (Catherine), Anthony Hopkins (Robert), Jake Gyllenhaal (Hal), Hope Davis (Claire), Tobiacz Daszkiewicz (Limo Driver), Roshan Seth (Professor Bhandari), Gary Houston (Professor Barrow)

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Review by Jake Lipson

The current decade is already more than half over and it has produced a wide variety of movies. While a great many are entertaining, the best are the deep ones that examine humanity and help reveal something about ourselves. Case in point: Proof, which takes on all the big thematic issues: life, death, love, family and math.

Yes, math. Robert (Anthony Hopkins) is a great mathematician, brilliantly regarded by everyone in his field of study for his completely revolutionary work. But, with age, his legendary genius slipped away, and he tragically deteriorated into a desperate state of insanity. Following his death, his 27-year-old daughter Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) tries to pick up the pieces of her own shattered life. Insistent that he would not be committed to an asylum, she gave up college to care for him once he fell ill. She now must find a way to move on. But how can she do that while wondering whether or not she inherited her father's condition?

The arrival of her estranged sister Claire (Hope Davis) for the funeral certainly doesn't help, nor do the attentions of Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal). A dedicated student of her father's, he constantly pours over the notebooks that Robert kept during his downward spiral in the futile hope of finding proof that his genius endured through the end. As they each react to Robert's passing, repressed emotions and buried truths arise, forcing these wounded people to finally try to heal.

Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) stays up late. Catherine has trouble paying much attention to the nerdy boy (Jake Gyllenhaal) going through her father's notebooks.

Despite the fact that it concerns mathematicians and their work, you do not have to enjoy math to love this movie. Though the math is present in the storyline, but it is not about the math. It is about the characters and how they feel, and that's why it works so well. Everyone has felt these emotions, and the movie is life-affirming in its examination of them. It speaks powerfully with a sincerity that allows you to feel for these characters just as deeply as you would for your own loved ones.

This is mainly due to the wit and intelligence of the screenplay, adapted by David Auburn and Rebecca Miller from Auburn's own Pulitzer Prize-winning 2001 play. A success on Broadway, it is a very basic, simple play, which might not seem like a natural fit for a cinematic incarnation. But it is; though the onstage action takes place entirely on the back porch of Catherine's house, the scope is expanded here for the film medium without burying its heart in the
process. While the screenplay remains faithful to the text of the play, the characters move around now, and much of the script accordingly moves with them to new locations. They go into the house, to the store to buy a dress, to the college campus, etc. We also actually see scenes only alluded to in the play, such as Robert's funeral. It's still very talky, but if you're looking for an action movie, you're not even in the right ballpark. For those who want what it has to offer, Proof can't be beat.

Warm, real and honest, Proof resonates on several levels and works in many different ways. It contains elements of a heartfelt family drama, a gentle romance, a tense psychological thriller and, thanks to a shocking revelation at the movie's midpoint, a gripping mystery. Whichever way you take it, Proof proves to be extremely provocative and emotionally stirring. Plus, unlike far too many movies these days, it actively involves the viewer and challenges them to think; the nonlinear timeline, while never extreme enough to be confusing, keeps you on your toes and guessing until the end.

Hope Davis plays Claire, the well-meaning but controlling outsider. Not surprisingly, Catherine isn't too interested in Hal's geeky flirtrations.

Of course, not even a brilliant script will work unless the film also boasts capable actors. To that end, the quartet of central characters comes to life excellently. Hopkins makes his presence known thoroughly despite only appearing in brief flashbacks and visions, Gyllenhaal strikes just the right warm balance between appealing and geeky, and Davis is perfect as the well-meaning but controlling outsider. But it is Paltrow who shines the most. She performed and perfected the role on stage in London's West End, and in her hands, Catherine is so wounded, vulnerable and fragile that you can't help but reach out to her even while admiring her remarkable strength. She is the emotional center of the entire movie and drives it with an astonishing, confident force that is extremely rare these days. It is criminal that she was not recognized for this role with an Oscar.

Director John Madden (who previously worked with Paltrow on both the Oscar-winning movie Shakespeare in Love and the stage version of Proof) knows the material inside out and is the perfect person to helm the film. Because he has a wide range of experience on both stage and screen, he is able to give the story a new lease on life as a film while simultaneously remaining true to its theatrical roots. It is a truly great play, and now it is also a truly great movie.

Catherine sees dead people (i.e., Anthony Hopkins). Gwyneth Paltrow plays the conflicted protagonist of "Proof."

However, mainstream moviegoers will probably unfortunately pass on experiencing it, simply because it has slipped under their radar. Originally scheduled for release in December 2004, Proof was subsequently treated to a lengthy delay because of contractual disputes between Disney and Miramax founders Bob and Harvey Weinstein. When they decided to bow out and start a new company, Proof and other similarly-delayed movies were quickly released in a concentrated glut during the late summer and early fall of 2005. None of these fared particularly well, but Proof in particular failed miserably. It was unceremoniously dumped in just 517 domestic theaters with next to no marketing push and, despite the presence of big-name actors, ultimately grossed under $8 million in 10 weeks of release.

None of the lavish awards success it should have had followed either, qualifying the film as 2005's "movie that Oscar forgot." The studio only campaigned for Paltrow to win Best Actress, and they only did that extremely lightly. It resulted in a Golden Globe nomination for Best Actress in a Motion Picture Drama, which she lost to Felicity Huffman. (The "Desperate Housewives" star appeared in Transamerica for, of all studios, the Weinstein Company.) Proof was unjustly ignored in all other categories of every major awards ceremony. The lack of honors wouldn't bother me as much if the film had been embraced by audiences, but due to the release "strategy" that proved impossible. My hope is now that this quality DVD release will help the movie find the audience it so richly deserves.

Buy Proof on DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French)
Subtitles: English, Spanish
Closed Captioned
Release Date: February 14, 2006
Single-sided, dual-layered disc (DVD-9)
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $29.99)
Black Keepcase with Side Snaps

VIDEO and AUDIO

Alwin H. Kuchler's cinematography brings a lively intimacy to the film that strikes you immediately. Proof is beautifully shot and takes full advantage of the wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio to immerse you in its world. All of that is correctly preserved on DVD, and the transfer is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions.

Those who have reviewed this disc for other websites have complained about the quality of the transfer, citing background noise, edge halos, and other such problems.
They may be there, but I can't find them. I have not yet made the jump to a widescreen TV, so I'm watching on a standard 1.33:1 analog set and can't speak to any video issues that people who watch on larger sets may encounter. As you would expect for such a recent title, though, there is no sign of film grain, blemishes, or any similar print-related issues. This image correctly and excellently represents what I saw in the theater, and for my money it is a good transfer.

The Dolby Digital 5.1 track also sounds fine. Most notable here is composer Stephen Warbeck's simple, elegant, compelling score, which richly compliments the visuals and terrifically captures both the tenderness and the tension through unique and memorable music. Occasionally, it will kick in with emphasis, and the disc represents it well. But the audio is mostly dialogue, and that comes through crystal clearly with no distortion and there was little need for volume change. This is a solid audio presentation.

Worth noting here is a very slight change to the film from what was seen during its brief theatrical run, at which time Miramax was the only studio credited as being involved with the film. Now, however, the movie opens with the Weinstein Company logo immediately prior to the Miramax one. I suspect that this change is due to some kind of contractual agreement reached between Disney and the Weinsteins, but can only speculate.

Robert appears in Catherine's mirror in this deleted scene. Director John Madden flies solo on the audio commentary, but is one of several subjects interviewed in "From Stage to Screen."

BONUS FEATURES and MENUS

When I saw how poorly Proof performed at the box office, I was concerned that it would consequently be relegated to barebones DVD treatment, as has happened to numerous past theatrical flops. I am pleased to say that I needn't have worried. While this disc is naturally not the special edition to end all special editions, it does deliver a reasonable amount of extra features.

The most substantial bonus is a feature-length audio commentary from director John Madden. He talks about how he and Gwyneth Paltrow first came to do Proof and compares the film to the stage play, which is interesting. But he lapses into unnecessarily long discussions of what the characters are thinking and what drives them to do what they are doing on screen, which gets bland after a while because by the time you've gotten to the commentary, of course you've already seen the film and don't need to be told what's happening. To his credit, he usually does manage to relate these tangents to how he approached a certain scene or moment, but takes a little too long to get there.
I can't help but think that it might have been a good idea to bring someone else in to keep things going, such as playwright-screenwriter David Auburn or Paltrow. Still, there is enough solid and interesting information in this track that it is valuable, and its presence is very much appreciated. Fans are encouraged to check out at least a portion of it and, if it suits you, the full track.

The disc holds three interesting deleted scenes, and Madden offers optional commentary on them. Two are entirely new scenes which did not appear in either the final cut of the film or the stage show in any form—including a cool math analogy. The other one is an extended version of an existing scene which incorporates more of the play's dialogue than was ultimately used. They are good scenes in and of themselves, but they don't add much to the movie and I agree with Madden that it was a good move to cut them. His commentary here is a lot better than on the actual feature film because he really zeroes on these specific scenes and makes his point a lot quicker than he does when he has the entire movie's running time at his disposal. None of them run over five minutes.

Gwyneth Paltrow discusses her theatrical and cinematic incarnations of the role in "From Stage to Screen." A still from the animated Main Menu.

Lastly, there is "From Stage to Screen: The Making of Proof." Running just under ten minutes, this is your typical EPK featurette. We hear briefly about the show and particularly Madden's mounting of it with Paltrow, and then a range of people involved with the film offer their two cents on making it. There's not really any information here that's not in the commentary as well, and it is both self-congratulatory and loaded with film clips. It is worth watching once, just not more than that, and it's not anything particularly revolutionary. Go in with your expectations in check and it will be worth the watch.

Proof's menus are simple but effective, featuring brief movements and excerpts from Stephen Warbeck's score. They also recall the design of the memorable theatrical poster, which is infinitely superior to the disc's horrible cover artwork. The coolest thing about them, though, is that the cursors resemble brackets frequently used in math—a subtle but great touch.

The disc opens with a number of trailers for upcoming DVD releases, including An Unfinished Life, another casualty of Miramax's aforementioned release glut. It is packaged in a standard black keepcase with side snaps, and includes a single-page insert, which lists the 15 chapter stops and advertises forthcoming DVD releases of Unfinished Life and Shopgirl. Be warned that the chapter stop titles give away spoilers, especially #8 which single-handedly ruins the big shock in the middle of the movie. So, if you can, you will want to avoid looking at it before watching the film for the first time.

It's never too cold for math! A dated denim jacket might explain why Catherine sits alone at college.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

Like most people who visit this site, I see a lot of films. Put simply, Proof is the best new movie I have seen in years. I cannot stress strongly enough how wonderful it is. Miramax's DVD does right by the film, presenting it well and with a generous amount of interesting supplements despite its lackluster theatrical earnings. If more people are to discover this gem on DVD, they will do so with a good product. "Highly recommended" is a tremendous understatement.

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Related Reviews:
Gwyneth Paltrow: Iron Man (Ultimate 2-Disc Edition) | Jake Gyllenhaal: Zodiac (2-Disc Director's Cut)
Anthony Hopkins: Nixon (Election Year Edition) • Bram Stoker's Dracula • Beowulf (Director's Cut) | Hope Davis: The Hoax
Adapted from the Stage: Doubt • The Odd Couple • Chicago • Nine • Once Upon a Mattress • The Happiest Millionaire
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Reviewed March 9, 2006.