David Auburn's multi-award-winning play makes the inevitable transition from stage to screen with a pair of Oscar-bid lead performances, but not much of the original work's power. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises the role she originated on the London boards with her portrayal of Catherine Llewellyn, the 27-year-old daughter of world-famous University of Chicago mathematics professor Robert Llewellyn (Anthony Hopkins). Devastated by Robert's death just days earlier, and tormented by the knowledge that her father had a complete nervous breakdown after making his reputation with a series of brilliant proofs, she has begun to worry about her own mental health. Once a promising young mathematician herself, Catherine dropped out of the graduate program at Northwestern University to care for her father when he began showing signs of mental degeneration. Now unmoored from the role of nursemaid she played for three years (Catherine refused to put her father in a hospital), her grief is further exacerbated by the appearance of Hal Dobbs (Jake Gyllenhaal), a former student of Robert's who insists on rummaging through the 100-odd notebooks in which Robert was scribbling during the months before his death. The arrival of Catherine's older sister, Claire (Hope Davis), who left some might say abandoned her father in order to pursue a successful Wall Street career, only makes matters worse. Claire is also concerned about Catherine's sanity, particularly after Catherine delivers an angry, impromptu eulogy at her father's funeral, and is determined to move Catherine to New York where she or a trained professional can keep a close eye on her. Claire's plan, however, is foiled when Catherine suddenly produces a notebook containing a mathematical proof that, Hal assures her, could set the math world on its ear. The trouble is that Catherine, the grad school dropout who may not be in her right mind, claims to have written it herself. Math makes for a cold, creaky metaphor, and you can practically hear the trope groaning under the weight of overly significant lines. What theater critics unanimously described as brilliant on stage is oddly flat and unemotional on screen; instead of being pulled into the piece by the throat, one tends to admire certain aspects of the screenplay from a considerable emotional distance. Hopkins plays "Hopkins," and the buff, terribly miscast Gyllenhaal will be convincing only to viewers who've never set foot on a university campus. What makes it worth seeing, however, is the extraordinary chemistry between the atypically raw and unguarded Paltrow and Davis, a fabulously talented actress once again testing her range with a performance unlike any she's given in the past.
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- Released: 2005
- Rating: PG-13
- Review: David Auburn's multi-award-winning play makes the inevitable transition from stage to screen with a pair of Oscar-bid lead performances, but not much of the original work's power. Gwyneth Paltrow reprises the role she originated on the London boards with h… (more)