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'Proof' Makes Winning Jump from Stage to Screen


Gwyneth Paltrow's latest film "Proof" is just getting into theaters even though it was finished a year ago. But Los Angeles Times and MORNING EDITION film critic Kenneth Turan says that delay is far from a bad omen.

KENNETH TURAN reporting:

"Proof" is a film that has several things to prove. Can this Pulitzer Prize-winning play successfully transfer to the screen and can star Gwyneth Paltrow handle this kind of seriously dramatic starring role? The answer is an unequivocal yes. Thanks to Paltrow's unadorned performance, a portrait of psychological frailty that is honest, direct and devastating, this is a film that really has to be seen. Three of its four main characters are mathematicians, but "Proof" is not about math itself. It uses math as a way to investigate the length, excitement and fragility of creativity as well as a potential closeness of madness and genius.

Paltrow plays a once-promising math student who dropped out of school to be the sole caregiver to her father, played by Anthony Hopkins. He was a mathematician of genius who went in and out of sanity for years before his recent death. Very much like her father, Paltrow's character has her own demons to fight, including the fear that she has inherited her father's madness.

(Soundbite of "Proof")

Ms. GWYNETH PALTROW: (As Catherine) How old were you when it started?

Mr. ANTHONY HOPKINS: (As Robert) Why?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) You know, when you got sick.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Twenty-six, 27. Is that what you're worried about?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) I thought about it.

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Just because I went buggers, doesn't mean you will. This stuff is not strictly hereditary, they know that now. Listen to me, you're going to be OK.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) I am?

Mr. HOPKINS: (As Robert) Yes, I promise you.

TURAN: Paltrow's character also has to deal with her assertive sister, played by Hope Davis, and a young protegee of her father's, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Filmmaker John Madden directed Paltrow in a well-reviewed London stage production of "Proof." His familiarity with the material and his history with Paltrow--he directed her in "Shakespeare in Love"--increased "Proof's" intensity. Basically, a four-character play, "Proof" is blessed in all its key roles. Hopkins, the heart of the film's extensive flashbacks, has the kind of great man presence the part demands. Davis takes the character that veers closest to cliche and gives it intensity and believability, while Gyllenhaal breathes essential sweetness to the contradictory persona of a heartthrob math geek.

(Soundbite of "Proof")

Mr. JAKE GYLLENHAAL: (As Hal) Do you mind if I stay?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) No. You can work if you want.

Ms. GYLLENHAAL: (As Hal) Should I?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) You can if you want to.

Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (As Hal) Do you want me to go?

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Do you want to go?

Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (As Hal) I want to stay here with you.

Ms. PALTROW: (As Catherine) Oh.

Mr. GYLLENHAAL: (As Hal) I want to spend the day with you, if at all possible. I want to spend as much time with you as I can unless I'm coming on way too strong right now and scaring you, in which case, I'll begin backpedaling immediately.

TURAN: "Proof," however, is incontrovertibly Paltrow's movie. Her performance is so emotionally naked, her on-screen uncertainty and insecurity so piercing that the raw pain at the core of the story never fades from view. Hers is a performance that redeems everything else about this film. It also allows for the hope that there will be roles of equal substance in the rest of this gifted actress' career.

INSKEEP: That's Kenneth Turan, a critic for MORNING EDITION and the Los Angeles Times. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

MoviesMorning Edition
Kenneth Turan is the film critic for the Los Angeles Times and NPR's Morning Edition, as well as the director of the Los Angeles Times Book Prizes. He has been a staff writer for the Washington Post and TV Guide, and served as the Times' book review editor.