Judge Diane Wild raves about this Aussie drama, but decries the lack of pudding.
Photographs don't lie, people do.
Proof was released long before Hugo Weaving was a Matrix baddie or an elf king. It was released in 1991, when Russell Crowe was Russell Who? It was a gem of a movie then without the benefit of their current star power, and remains one now that it has finally been given star DVD treatment by New Line. It also has the added attraction of seeing two of today's most visible actors in fine early roles.
Facts of the Case
Written and directed by Jocelyn Moorhouse (A Thousand Acres), Proof is the charming, challenging story of Martin (Weaving), a blind photographer who uses his camera as proof that he senses what others see. Though the deeply paranoid Martin is sure that he is a victim of lies, he needs to trust someone to translate those photographs for him.
In flashbacks to his childhood, we discover that he believes his mother lied when she would describe the garden outside, and even that she lied about her imminent death. "Why would I lie to you?" his mother asks. "Because you can," he responds. He still has the picture he took of that garden, and is waiting for the right moment—and the right person—to describe it for him so he can discover the truth.
Now Martin's only real relationship is with his devious, controlling housekeeper Celia (Genevieve Picot), who resents him for not returning her affections. Aloof and cold himself, he matches her cruelty for cruelty, keeping her around because her frustrated attraction for him means she doesn't pity him as others do.
Then Martin meets the open and direct Andy (Crowe) and uncharacteristically begins to trust him. They develop a friendship as Andy describes Martin's photographs and shows him that fun doesn't have to involve tormenting the housekeeper. But jealous Celia is playing games of her own, and Andy is the pawn.
Proof is part black humor, part psychological drama, and wholly entertaining. The simple structure of three characters interacting belies the complex emotions involved and the interesting ways the movie draws us into their world. The keys to its success are Moorhouse's well-developed characters and the actors who give them life.
It would be easy to dislike Martin if the script didn't give him moments of wit or even silliness. When Martin ends up behind the wheel as he and Andy flee a fight, he claims to have been suddenly blinded. After examining him at the hospital, a doctor exclaims: "You've been blind all your life."
"I know," Martin replies.
"What were you doing driving a car?" she accuses.
But Martin's most defining trait is a distrust bordering on paranoia—and often taking a giant leap over that border.
"Does it really matter if she lied about a piece of garden?" Andy asks about Martin's mother.
"Yes. It's my world," Martin replies.
To him, the world exists in sounds, touch, and other people's visual descriptions—and he needs those descriptions to match what his own senses tell him. The soundtrack focuses tightly on the incidental sounds that pervade Martin's world—raindrops, a dripping faucet, a rattling window, a humming refrigerator, high heels clicking on a tile floor.
The DVD does justice to this attention to sound, with a choice of Dolby Digital 5.1 or 2.0 Surround, or DTS—really, an overload of choice for a subtle, not powerful, soundtrack. The surrounds are used effectively to engage the audience's sense of hearing as much as our sense of sight. Some scenes are punctuated with great percussive music by Not Drowning, Waving, but the soundtrack is largely dialogue and atmospheric effects.
Crowe's charming, easygoing performance of Andy is the antidote to Weaving's slyly funny but dour portrayal of Martin. Andy is game for anything—describing Martin's photos, cavorting with the evil Celia—but his bond with Martin develops into something deeper after the initial burst of curiosity. He starts the friendship as something of a lark, then finds that it's more important to him than he realized.
Celia is something of an enigma, appearing to both despise and lust after both men, but motivated throughout by stalker-like affection for Martin. When the three characters come together in the psychological climax, Celia appears to get the upper hand. Picot succeeds in making her horrible enough for the viewer not to be on her side, but vulnerable enough that we feel some sympathy for her at the same time. She fills the role of "bad guy" only because she's even more deranged than Martin. And Weaving deserves enormous credit for making Martin appealing despite his bouts of cruelty and paranoia.
Even with its focus on blindness and sound, the DVD doesn't neglect the viewer's sense of sight. The transfer is great, with crisp colors even in the dreary Melbourne rain, and no edge enhancement or artifacts to speak of.
The menu is a mini-slideshow of Martin's photographs overlaid with a monologue from a key scene—sound that disappears after a minute or so, before it gets annoying.
Both commentaries are worthwhile, though if I were forced to make a choice, I'd pick Weaving's. Writer/director Moorhouse offers some funny and informative anecdotes about the making of the movie. But despite his disclaimer that it has been 14 years since they filmed Proof, Weaving remembers not just his experiences during the shoot, but also offers an intelligent look at the themes and structure of the movie itself. As an added bonus, his warm, mesmerizing voice would make a shopping list sound pleasant—a marked contrast to Martin's clipped, cold tones.
"Martin's Photo Album" feels superfluous, since we see so many in the movie itself. But it is interesting to note that the photos were taken by Moorhouse, Hugo Weaving, writer/director P.J. Hogan (Muriel's Wedding)—who happens to be Moorhouse's husband—and, um, someone I've never heard of.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
I have one serious beef with this movie: it features a cat named Ugly who resembles my own cat. Who is not ugly. Not really. Well, we can't all be beautiful.
Proof is evidence that thought-provoking drama can be entertaining and funny, and New Line has given the movie fair treatment with a good package of extras and fine transfer. Proof definitely deserves a place in your DVD collection.
You really need more proof? Not guilty!
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Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
• Commentary by Directory Jocelyn Moorhouse
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