|Proof of Life
2000 - R - 135 Mins.
|Director: Taylor Hackford
|Producer: Charles Mulvehill, Taylor Hackford
|Written By: Tony Gilroy
|Starring: Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, David Caruso, David Morse, Pamela Reed
|Review by: David Trier
Peter Bowman (David Morse) is a humanitarian helping to build a dam in Colombia that might stop the flooding. The company footing the bill is actually a huge oil corporation hoping to build a pipeline through the mountains that will be quite profitable. Now, Colombia is one of the nations most screwed up by the era of drug prohibition, plotting a right-wing military dictatorship against illegally-armed uneducated kids who stand to profit from cocaine production. To make money to run their operation, what were once leftist marxist activists are now illiterate kidnappers, of which Bowman becomes a victim. His wife, Alice (Meg Ryan), a former hippy disillusioned by the lack of good jobs in the third world, hopes his company will rescue him. But as it turns out, they're fresh out of kidnapping insurance. Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a Kidnap and Ransom (K & R) expert who, because he's such a great guy, is willing to help out (although not at first). Bowman is dragged across the Andes for months, his captors assuming he's worth a lot because he works for imperialist pig-dogs. But the equation of an attractive woman working closely with a handsome bloke protecting her at every corner would make any Temptation Island contestant nervous...
The movie thrives on three main elements: the suspense/action of someone you can identify with having his life flipped upside down in a kidnapping, the suspense/thriller of a sly K & R negotiator trying to price, locate, and rescue someone, and the tense romance that may or may not brew between the negotiator and the man's wife as a result. The first two elements are very well executed. The kidnapping is terrifying, emotional, and disturbingly realistic. The cinematography in the mountains and the execution but not exploitation of gunplay is thrilling. David Morse, an asset to any film, is a fine actor, passionate but subtle. The supporting cast is excellent, most notably German actor Gottfried John as a fellow prisoner. The negotiating element of the film is quite interesting. Private citizens like us have rarely heard the details of how an operation like this goes down. Never pay for "proof of life." That's good to know. And Russell Crowe's sly, subdued performance makes it all the more intriguing. But the third element, the romance, brings the film down a whole grade. First of all, nobody likes to watch a married woman make eyes at a veritable superhero between scenes of her husband getting pistol-whipped while chained to a tree stump. But what bothered me more was that the wife character really isn't that likeable. She complains a lot even before her husband is kidnapped and she's rude to almost everyone, even those that are going out of their way to help her. Meg Ryan delivers a fair performance but the script seems to call for someone with a little less romantic comedy experience if you know what I mean. Holly Hunter or Julianne Moore maybe. And I have to say it's surprising how little on-screen chemistry Ryan and Crowe have considering they have an off-screen relationship.
The film's climax is pretty exciting and very well directed, but the end of the film is a little weak. Pamela Reed plays Bowman's sister, a completely removable role. Her character is too sitcom for the style of the film, and Reed's performance, although basically good, is inconsistent. Anthony Heald, the guy Hannibal Lecter goes off to eat at the end of Silence of the Lambs, proves why he's played an uptight pompous prick in every movie he's ever been in, he's good at it. His big oil rep character is delightfully evil. David Caruso delivers a fun supporting role as a K & R ally, having officially patented the speak-closely-into-the-other-actor's-face technique (or Altoid acting as I like to call it). Taylor Hackford, who last brought us the unforgiveably silly The Devil's Advocate, makes Proof of Life suspenseful, evenly paced, and at the very least, a good renter.