Proof: Math in the movies (part π)

[Screenshot]This is a rarity for me: a movie based on a play which I saw first. Films based on books I’ve read previously are pretty common, but a stageplay’s a lot closer to a movie than a book is. Nonetheless, you don’t make a movie out of a stageplay just by sticking a camera down in the audience (usually). So it’s interesting to see what changes in transition. Most of the changes are inoffensive and well-considered; we see a greater fluidity of setting, and some nice off-center closeups which effectively translate the material to the screen. During the first two-thirds or so of the film, the romance at the wake was the only thing I found forced or ill-considered: I’m pretty sure they did some cut and paste from the stage script, and the whole thing seems sort of abrupt. Also, I honestly found the implicit sex of the stageplay a lot more effective as a plot-and-characterization device than the explicit sex on the screen. BUt I guess that’s the concession you make to the movie-watching public: you force some drama about math geeks on them, they insist on seeing Gwyneth Paltrow and Jake Gyllenhaal simulating sex. Or something.

I wish that was the extent of my complaints, but I got a distinct sense of cinemacraft unravelling near the end. Cinematically it got clichéd, and we got a montage, and then a scene in an airport. I hate scenes with people facing decisions in airports. We need a moratorium on people about to get on a plane changing their minds and running out of the airport. Any director that uses such a scene should be beaten about the head unitl cured.

Er, sorry. Jsut got me going on one of my pet peeves. I really wanted to like this film, and to a large extent I do. I’m glad it was made, because a screen adaptaiton of the play wanted to be made. But it had its flaws, and moving on from above, one of those flaws is Gwyneth Paltrow. I like Paltrow, but I’m not sure she was quite right for this role. She doesn’t quite have enoguh iron in her: sulky Catherine she can do, but strong Catherine she can’t, and it misses an important nuance of the character, in my estimation. Paltrow’s Catherine is an emotional cripple; the stage Catherines I remember (Mary-Louise Parker and Dan McKellar, for the record) had a lot more fire. She is troubled, certainly; but she is not weak. The other cast seemed more appropriate in their roles: Anthony Hopkins’s Robert, like Orson Welles’l Harry Lime, dominates the film in spirit despite having barely any screen-time. Gyllenhaal’s Hal is generally good but with just a smidge too much oily charm, and Hope Davis does well, but in a role not demanding too much subtlety.

I harped on what I disliked above, so let me stress: I actually liked the film a great deal. Just not as much as the stageplay.

See also: IMDB, Wikipedia, Rotten Tomatoes.


About Jake
I'm a mathematics professor at the University of Louisville, and a geek.

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