John Madden’s Proof is about a young woman’s fight to overcome her father’s shadow and claim her life as her own. Fraught by depression, hallucinations, and paranoia, the main character, Catherine, meanders her way through this movie to find something close to a new beginning. Crowded with exceptional actors and a layered script, Proof offers an authentic story of crisis and redemption.

Ostensibly, the story is about the death of a math genius with a tendency toward madness and its effects on his youngest daughter, Catherine. In the present, Catherine attempts to cope with her father’s death, settling her father’s estate. Through flashback scenes, we learn Catherine has been the sole caregiver of her mentally ill father. The crux of the plot is that after her father’s death, a revolutionary mathematical proof is found. Though her sister and friends assume the proof is the work of her father, Catherine insists she is the author. Armed with only her personal assertion, Catherine can offer no proof of her authorship. The characters wrestle with concept of proof: that nothing can be proven.

What’s really at stake is more than a mathematical proof; it’s Catherine’s sanity. On every level, she compares herself to her father. Her depressed, paranoid existence hints at her father’s instability. If she wrote this proof, is it evidence that she will become as ill as her father was? Is it proof she is his reflection?

Ultimately, though, Proof is about faith. It reminds the audience that people are more than their genes, more than their tendencies, more than what people imagine themselves to be. There is no guarantee that life will unfold a certain way; even without proof, some things are worth believing in. Hope, then, is what sustains us and this storyline.

The acting is superb. Forget Shakespeare In Love for which Gwyneth Paltrow won an Academy Award, this movie is her best performance to date. Her embodiment of Catherine is deep and moving. We believe she is this broken woman, so close to cracking under the strain of her father’s death. The other actors do well to form characters off which Paltrow can reflect Catherine’s disturbed perspective. Anthony Hopkins plays Paltrow’s father as a highly eccentric, excitable man who is helpless to control his intelligence and insanity. Actress Hope Davis provides a mentally stable, competent contrast as Catherine’s sister. Hal, played by Jake Gyllenhaal, is Catherine’s confidante and her father’s student and serves as a lifeline between the future and the past.

Not for the light of heart, Proof offers an intimate perspective of the intricate nature of family, mental illness, and redemption. This movie is big on personal drama, little on monster tactics of big-budget films. You’ll find no special effects, no fast-moving action scenes, or over-the-top performances in this movie. What you get is something akin to a slice of a confused, grieving woman’s struggle to accept her father’s death and herself. Grade: A