I should start off by confessing that Proof by David Auburn is one of my very favorite plays in recent years. So my response to the movie version is going to be at least a bit colored by bias: the movie has quite the hard time matching up the version running concurrently in my head.
Although I don’t think it’s just me: it seems pretty clear that of the four major characters, three of the actors just don’t do very well. Gwyneth Paltrow acquits herself very nicely as Catherine, the unstable daughter of an insane math genius, which makes a lot of sense when you realize that she played the role in London. Jake Gyllenhaal doesn’t fare quite as well as the romantic semi-interest; he seems a little too dazed and confused, which isn’t the worst approach to the part, but gets a little shtick-ey.
And then there’s Hope Davis and Anthony Hopkins, who simply drag the film down around them every time they’re onscreen. Both are hammy and broad, and Hopkins in particular embarrasses himself, acting like he’s screaming out cue cards.
Not that the director and writers do much to help them. It’s a weirdly stage-bound thing; not because it’s confined to a single set – indeed, the problem is precisely the opposite, for the film hops desperately from scene to scene and location to location; the filmmakers trot out every trick they can to distract the audience that they’re watching a play on film. It smacks of nothing so much as desperation.
Cinema history is littered with brililant and fluid stage-to-screen translations. And it’s also littered with clunky, illiterate adaptations. And now, one of the clunkers has a Pulitzer pedigree. Godammit.