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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.
Proof is presented in an anamorphic 2.35:1 widescreen transfer which, for the most part, looks very good. Colors, while muted overall, come across as natural and expressive. Flesh tones are accurate and shadows and lighting are well-delineated. Black levels are deep and rich, while contrast is also excellent. The only slight issue with this transfer is the appearance of some grain from time to time, as well as a few spots on the print. This transfer is, nevertheless, an above average presentation of the film.
The audio on this disc is presented in a Dolby Digital 5.1 format and does a fine job of handling the source material it is given. Proof doesn't exactly have the most dynamic sound mix so it fails to give the audio format a real workout. Spatial separation across the front channels, however, is just fine and the rear speakers do a nice job of helping push the film's excellent score. Dialogue is certainly the most important aspect of this film, and this track handles it very well as the characters' speech is always clear and crisp. There's not too much bass for the .1 LFE channel to tackle, but it does tend to perk up during a select few scenes. The discrete surrounds also get a bit more lively during the film's heavy rainfall. Overall, this track does exactly what it needs to do without having a very large sound canvas to work with.
While not exactly packed to the gills, this disc has a few worthwhile extra features. The first of which is an audio commentary with Director John Madden that mostly stays screen-specific, but also gives Madden plenty of opportunity to relate a few stories from the film's set. Most informative, however, are the director's comments about the transition of David Auburn's Proof from the London Stage to the America Cineplex. Madden explains how the film was a homecoming, of sorts, as both he and Paltrow had both previously worked on the stage production. Though it tends to get a bit dry at times, this track is still insightful and entertaining enough to be worth a listen.
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.
It would be nearly impossible for Director John Madden to match the critical success of David Auburn's play, Proof, with his film adaptation. Though he'd worked with Paltrow on the stage play before, he still hits a few rough patches with his adaptation. The film is entertaining and interesting enough, with some great acting along the way, but it simply doesn't hold the same emotional weight as the stage performance. The audience connection is much harder to achieve when they're not directly in front of you and, despite the best efforts on the part of Paltrow, Hopkins, Gyllenhaal, and Davis, that connection never fully develops in the film version.
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.