Following the success of Shakespeare In Love, Gwyneth Paltrow and director John Madden re-teamed for an acclaimed stage production of David Auburn's Proof - an intricate character study exploring the fine line between genius and insanity. With this big screen version (co-scripted by Auburn), Madden fails to widen its scope. However, Paltrow gives a truly compelling performance as the daughter of a mathematical mastermind (Anthony Hopkins) who struggles to make sense of life's indeterminate values.
In the opening scene, Catherine engages in casual conversation with her father (routinely played by Hopkins), but it's just as soon revealed that he is dead. With the spectre of his schizophrenia hanging over her, Catherine is left in a terrifying, emotional vacuum. Even with the tiniest gestures, Paltrow turns herself inward and there's a looming sense of imminent collapse. Unfortunately, Madden misses an opportunity by giving away dad's post-mortem status too early and without that suspense, the question of Catherine's sanity feels purely academic.
Proof is not a calculated crowd-pleaser. However, for patient viewers, it does offer a carefully considered and ultimately inspiring examination of how the need for order and logic is less important than a willingness to embrace chaos. For Catherine that chaos arrives in two forms; a flirtatious maths geek (the ever-cheeky Jake Gyllenhaal) and her controlling sister played with wicked, butt-clenching bureaucracy by Hope Davis. Their arrival shifts the action into higher gear as each suspects Catherine of trying to take credit for her father's work. It's a minor intrigue, but all the elements add up to a satisfying whole.