Sunday, July 16, 2006


ProofTo say that the critics were mean to Proof, when released in cinemas earlier this year (and out on DVD this week), is putting it mildly. Most of the reviews seemed to turn into personal attacks on its main star, Gwyneth Paltrow, and whilst I'm not a big fan of hers - I'm constantly reminded of that Empire review of the CGI movie Sky Captain where Jude Law was asked what it was like acting opposite a blank canvas..... 'or Gwyneth Paltrow as she's otherwise known' - I think she gives one of the best performances of her career in this movie.

The fact is that the actress attacked by the critics for her movie performance here, received rave reviews for her theatrical performance of the same part when it was a play in the West End. Could the two performances really be that different? And if the film really is as bad as the critics universally claimed, why does it, at the time of writing, have an average imdb score of 7.0?

In truth, it is a film with a lot of problems. While Paltrow is excellent, as is Hope Davis, playing her manipulative and over-organised sister, Jake Gyllenhaal is totally miscast as her supposedly brainy Maths student boyfriend, and Anthony Hopkins turns in a performance that can best be described as 'pedestrian'. He shambles through the movie on auto-pilot, reading the lines as if he really couldn't be bothered. None of that should matter too much, given the intelligence of the script, or, more accurately, the play - and therein lies the real problem with this film: it feels like a West End play not a movie.

Director John Madden tries to pull some cute visual tricks to convince us we're watching a film, but with most of the action taking place in one room, and with so many... words! ... watching this feels much more like a night out at the theatre than a night out at the movies. It was probably a big mistake having the director of the original West End play also take on the task of directing the film - someone less familiar with the theatrical play could probably have turned in a much more interesting film, at least in terms of involving a screenwriter to adjust the script to take advantage of what is a completely different medium.

That being said, Proof is not a totally dull 96 minutes, and the Pullitzer Prize winning script has some interesting things to say on the subject of mental health, father-daughter relationships, sibling rivalry etc. But ultimately one can't get away from the fact that this is really just a filmed version of a play, albeit a rather good play, and a rather weak film as a result.

The digital transfer is excellent, with not a fleck of grain, or random hair to be found, but the extra's included are disappointing. The obligatory From Stage to Screen is a short, fluff marketing piece that doesn't live up to its title and adds nothing to any understanding of the movie. It's the usual endless clips montage with the odd break to give an actor a sound bite to gush about how wonderful everyone else is. The director's commentary is even worse - dull, monotonous and with very little to say about the actual film-making process. After 90 minutes I learnt nothing I hadn't already learnt by watching the film, which is disappointing given that the director has been so involved with both the film and the original West End production!

Overall, this is definitely worth a rental, particularly if you're rather fed up with most of the brain-dead, popcorn action fare generally on offer, but essentially it comes over as very much a missed opportunity, despite Paltrow's excellent central performance.

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