After interviewing 'Shakespeare in Love' director John Madden last week, I wish I would have reviewed this Blu-ray two weeks ago in order to talk to him about 'Proof,' his intelligent 2005 drama about a woman who thinks she's inherited the family gene of early on-set insanity. Based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by David Auburn, 'Proof' is highly theatrical, yet infused extremely well in the film medium - a perfect blend of the two forms.
Gwyneth Paltrow leads the film as 27-year-old Catherine, the second daughter of a brilliant mathematician (Anthony Hopkins) whose started losing his mind at an early age, but only after forming two field-changing discoveries. The older daughter (Hope Davis) ran off to New York City with her high-society husband and never looked back, so when Dad's condition became worse, it was Catherine who dropped out of college to tend to him at home. But just because she didn't finish her university studies, don't assume she's anything less than her father's brainy daughter. Catherine has a brilliant and blooming bright mind – only she might be too smart for her own good, because she watched firsthand as her father's mental stability deteriorated. Knowing that his disease might be hereditary, she lives in a constant state of paranoia – which just might be the first sign of her own insanity surfacing.
When her father passes away, Catherine allows Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal), her father's admirer and pupil, to sort through 100-plus notebooks that he scribbled in. Since he filled the pages while he was ill, Hal hopes that he can piece together any sort of coherent mathematical thought that might further advance the field. Although Catherine has given him her full permission, she's paranoid that his plan is to steal anything of value from the books in order to pass it off as his own.
When Big Sis arrives for the funeral, Catherine has a few uncomfortable freak-out moments and the focus of the film shifts your attention from wondering if she's crazy to trying to figure out just how crazy she is. Testimonies are questioned, facts don't line up and it becomes absolutely obvious that things in Catherine's head aren't functioning properly. It seems that she has certainly inherited her father's mortal flaw.
Shortly thereafter, the focus of the film changes again as new facts are brought to light. I'll refrain from describing it to you in full, because the film's tension derives solely from these moments. This process happens once again when we are given a huge piece of information - a moment that obviously cues a intermission-caused cliffhanger during stage productions. After these facts are revealed, we are shown a long string of flashbacks that begin shedding light on reality. Considering the fact that the film is purely dialog-driven, it's brilliant how entangled you become as an audience member, how intense the situation and story at hand become.
The mathematical process of Hopkins and Gyllenhaal's characters perfectly describes what you go through as an audience member. As you watch the film, you find little clues that perfectly fit into the puzzle. When new elements are introduced, you have to tweak your hypothesis to fit the changing model. You keep checking the facts as you move along and adjusting as necessary.
Math drives me crazy. Literally. It make me bonkers. My fever dreams consist of mathematical equations that all result in infinity. It's the closest I've ever come to insanity. When Catherine begins describing the internal feeling of thinking she's going crazy, it's almost panic-causing because of how elegantly and intimately she describes it - almost exactly the same way I feel during those fever dreams. The emotion is pure and raw, making you understand how it must feel to lose your mind.
My only complaint about the film is that a few F-words were obviously edited over to obtain a PG-13 rating. I imagine that because 'Proof' was shot on a limited budget, they simply didn't have footage of other camera angles to use in place of seeing a character mouth one word and speak another. But considering that's the one and only beef I have with 'Proof' – a technical flaw probably caused by the studio and a tiny budget – that says a lot for the film itself.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
This Echo Bridge transfer has been placed on a BD-25 in a standard blue keepcase. Aside from an FBI warning, not a thing plays on the disc before the main menu. The cover art is decent, but the way it's printed resembles a bootleg copy you'd find in an overseas street market - with shoddy quality, it's incomplete and erroneous. Echo Bridge lists only one lossy audio option when there are really three options to choose from (one being lossless).
'Proof' arrives on Blu-ray with a 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 encode presented in a nice wide 2.35:1 aspect ratio.
There aren't any major flaws with the transfer of 'Proof,' but it sure isn't what we expect from new Blu-rays. Everything seems to vary from shot to shot. A lot of scenes are highly detailed and crisp, some are not. Some shots are noisy, others are not. Very few feature light amounts of DNR, most do not. The only constants are a slight amount of film grain. The print itself is absolutely dirt and grime free.
The palette of the movie itself is very plain and dry. Blacks are decent, but tend to display digital noise (presumably caused by the size of the disc).
Edge enhancement isn't an issue. Bands, artifacts and aliasing never make an appearance.
The case only cites only one lossy audio track – English 5.1 Dolby Digital – but when you go to the settings menu, you'll see that there's also a lossless English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track and an uncompressed Linear PCM stereo track. It's odd that Echo Bridge would push the lossy Dolby Digital track over the uncompressed ones.
Being based on a stage play, most of the film takes place in a single house with nothing more than constant conversation taking place. That said, the vocals are clear, centered and flawless. The opening of the film is set inside the house while a storm dumps rain outside. The background rain effects fill the channels and create a great mood - but few instances give the audio opportunities to shine like this.
It's somewhat odd when our characters are outside the house because imaging effects suddenly fill the channels, which are mostly silent until these moments. This erratic use of sound isn't a flaw of the transfer, but an obvious designer's decision. When the surround and rear channels are used, they sounds fantastic. The imaging sounds of cars driving on snow-packed streets is flawless.
The overall use of audio comes across as very front forward, but that's the way it was meant to be. When scenes call for great use of surround sound, it's very well-mixed.
There isn't a single special feature.
'Proof' is a film that I wish I had seen when it was released nearly seven years ago. It's a smart work of theatrical material that is perfectly translated to film. Much like '50/50' is said to be an accurate and honest portrayal of what it's like to be diagnosed with cancer, 'Proof' feels like a genuine exploration of the first-hand feeling of going insane. Had it not been for the solid performances, it would not have worked in the slightest, but each actor gives his or her best, making 'Proof' an outstanding and noteworthy film. The inconsistent video quality ranges from strong to decent and occasionally suffers from digital noise. When called for, the surround sound is great - but being a dialog-driven film set mostly indoors, the sound is mostly centered in the front. Not a single special feature is included on the Blu-ray, it really could have benefited from one comparing the Pulitzer Prize-winning stage play and Madden's film. As a newfound fan of 'Proof,' I'm completely content with the bare-bones version we've been given.