The thing about proof is that everyone is always looking for it. Everyone wants to find that one shred of evidence that proves they've been somewhere, or done something, that's hard to believe. The problem, however, is that sometimes proof is one of the most difficult things to find. John Madden's Proof is all about trying to find that proof, in several different ways. There are characters searching for proof that they're not crazy, characters searching for proof that the ones they love are not crazy, and characters searching desperately for proof of their own intelligence. And, of course, there is the mathematical proof that provides the basis for the film's narrative.
What sets Proof apart from other similar films, such as A Beautiful Mind, is that Madden doesn't spend most of his film showing his "genius" at work. Truth be told, we don't actually see a whole lot of math being done during the course of the film and, while some viewers might be disappointed in that fact, I found it quite a relief. With a movie like Proof, I don't necessarily need to see the savant yanking out his hair and rubbing his forehead trying to figure out an impossible mathematic equation. Madden, instead, opts to let David Auburn's script tell the story and gives plenty of time to build his characters before hurling them into a confusing game of "who's telling the truth."
In certain ways, Auburn's play lends itself to the big screen. Proof has an incredibly intriguing premise - though it is one that closely resembles a few other films - and some really meaty parts for its actors to play. And with the cast Madden has assembled for the film version of Proof those parts are definitely in good hands. You don't need to be a mathematical genius to know that Paltrow, Hopkins, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Hope Davis would be the strongest part of the film, and they certainly deliver. Paltrow and Hopkins have the most actor-friendly parts and they do a good job of not overdoing it. Lesser actors might have gone way too far with their psychosis. Gyllenhaal is also solid, but my favorite performance in the film comes from Hope Davis who plays the Paltrow character's obsessive-compulsive sister. Not only is it the most interesting performance in the film, but she really takes full advantage of the screen time given her.
Winner of both the Tony Award and the Pulitzer Prize, Proof should make an easy transition to the big screen, but there are also a few issues along the way. Auburn's script is strong, for the most part, but the film takes a bit of a turn near the conclusion that just seems too rushed. There's simply too much happening in too little time, and the film's ending suffers because of it. Nevertheless, Paltrow and Gyllenhaal struggle through the plot developments to ultimately bring the film to a satisfying ending.
There are times when Proof doesn't exactly seem tailor-made for the cineplex, sometimes appearing as more of a staged play on screen, but the final result is still worth watching. The revelations near the end of the film may come fast, but at least we care about these characters by that point in the film. Madden does a good job of juggling the film's several mysteries and keeps the suspense high by moving the film along at a slow pace (at least for the first two-thirds). Proof is, ultimately, a successful adaptation of a great play. While it may stumble a bit near the conclusion, the film still does a fine job of providing some entertainment and insight into its characters often-confusing world.
Also included on this disc is an approximately nine-minute featurette called "From Stage to Screen: The Making of Proof" that serves as your typical EPK-style puff piece about the film. You'll find your requisite cast and crew interviews mixed in with clips from the film itself. There's not much depth to this feature - you've already learned most of what's contain within through Madden's commentary - but there are a few genuine moments with the cast and some nice behind-the-scenes shots from the set of the film. Easily the most entertaining aspect of this feature are the revelations of both Hopkins and Gyllenhaal that they were horrid, in school, when it came to math. If you don't expect it to be highly informative, you might be able to find a bit of enjoyment in watching this featurette.
Finally, we also have three deleted scenes with optional commentary by Madden. There's nothing really groundbreaking here, but the inclusion of these scenes are a worthy addition to the film. Madden does the usual chat about why these scenes were excised from the film while also telling us what he particularly likes about each one. They may be somewhat incidental to the overall quality of the disc, but these deleted scenes are certainly worth checking out at least once.
Madden, nevertheless, still gets the best out of his actors and does a good job in crafting a film that maintains its mystery and suspense throughout nearly its entire duration. It may not be a great film, but the inclusion of a quality audio-visual presentation and an insightful commentary by Director John Madden make Proof a disc worth recommending.