Stars: *** 1/2
Rating: R for sexual situations and language
Run Time: 1 hour, 40 minutes
Drama doesn’t get much smarter than this crisp and elegant film adaptation of the stage play of the same name.
Mathematical theory is back on screen after a short absence (“A Beautiful Mind”) to fill our characters’ heads with intellectual brilliance and mental instability. Beautiful, blonde, about-to-crack Catherine (Gwyneth Paltrow) has abandoned a promising career as a mathematician to take care of ailing dad Robert (Anthony Hopkins), a genius equationist in his own right.
As Catherine caters to her father’s skulking insanity fear drives her into dark places; fear of losing Robert’s mercurial love and a mounting dread of inheriting the mental illness that is ravaging his revolutionary mind.
Catherine is reluctantly forced out of her self-imposed seclusion by a pair of bright-eyed saviors; picture perfect sis Claire (Hope Davis) for whom all is perpetually ship-shape and Robert protégé Hal (Jake Gyllenhaal) who’s as interested in Catherine the female as he is gaining access to her dad’s private notebooks.
The gifted ensemble piles nuance upon nuance as they traverse the flash-forwards and flashbacks of Robert’s untimely death and beyond. The graceful discipline of math theory sits in stark contrast to the ugly realities of dementia, a collective contrast crackling with melodramatic vigor.
The players are spot-on, each a solidly played piece of the puzzle that assembled creates a rewarding whole. Surprisingly Paltrow’s strength is the sole weak link, her gift for portraying psychologically vulnerable women steeped in redundancy.
A fine, emotionally dense film.