Where can movies go that theater can't? Close up, and that's where director John Madden parks his camera as Gwyneth Paltrow fights madness and grief in "Proof," adapted from David Auburn's Pulitzer Prize-winning play.
Catherine (Paltrow) is the daughter of a legendary math professor who ultimately lost his mind (a role that Anthony Hopkins plays like a vintage race car that keeps slipping out of gear). Now he's dead, and Catherine is a mess: Does she have his gifts? Is she getting his disease? Is there proof?
Madden may be a conventional filmmaker, but he's unerringly fluid, and the staginess that adheres to "Proof" comes mainly from Auburn's two wooden supporting characters -- the maddeningly "normal" and efficient sister (Hope Davis) and the hunky love interest (Jake Gyllenhaal, handsome as hell but not really plausible as a math whiz, even a second-rate one). The story, adapted by Auburn and Rebecca Miller, retains the clever twists and entertaining, logic-driven dialogue of the original and mostly sticks to the proven script.
For better and worse, "Proof" is now explicitly a star vehicle: It's Gwynnie's picture. Madden can't linger long enough on Paltrow's face, where intimations of mortality ripple like a winter wind. She will impress a lot of people -- Madden guided her to an Oscar in "Shakespeare in Love" -- yet by ruthlessly zooming in on Catherine's morbid obsessions, Madden makes Auburn's probing but lively stage material darker, more cloistered and, believe it or not, less fun.
-- Nelson Pressley