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Proof of Life

movie reviewmovie review out of 4

All-Reviews.com Movie Review: Proof of Life

Starring: Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe
Director: Taylor Hackford
Rated: R
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genres: Action, Romance, Suspense


*Also starring: David Caruso, David Morse, Pamela Reed, Alun Armstrong, Michael Kitchen, Mario Ernesto Sanchez



Review by Edward Johnson-Ott
1½ stars out of 4

In an article that inspired the action-thriller, "Proof of Life," William Prochnau wrote, "The huge number of multinational executives being abducted abroad has made organized kidnapping a big business. It has also spawned a counter-industry getting them back and a secret drama involving former spies and revolutionaries, AK-47s and armored cars, helicopter drops and hideaways." With source material as provocative as that, the resultant film should be a knockout and "Proof of Life" does contain some moments that deliver on its promise, but far too much of the film is squandered on the most tedious aspects of a cumbersome, ill-conceived storyline.

The production starts off right, with commando-turned-hostage negotiator Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) dodging bullets in Chechnia while rescuing a victim from his abductors. Shortly after returning home, he gets dispatched to South America for another mission.

That mission is Peter Bowman (David Morse), an American engineer snatched by the ELT, a guerrilla outfit that started as a Marxist organization, but devolved into just a bunch of heavily-armed thugs who kidnap for a living.

Terry meets with Alice (Meg Ryan), Peter's wife, and settles in for the negotiations. Because their captive is a corporate employee, the ELT demands millions. What they don't know is that the company is on the verge of collapse and has not paid the kidnap insurance bills on its staff for months. When Terry learns the cold financial truth, he splits, but something draws him back and he becomes even more determined to come up with a way to get Peter home.

So far, so good, but the story then settles into mediocrity, cutting between segments of Peter being mistreated by his dope-smoking, coke-snorting, gun-toting captors and interminable scenes of the molasses-slow negotiation process and the growing quasi-romantic relationship between Terry and Alice. The film eventually delivers a rousing action set piece, but by then it's too little, too late.

"Proof of Life" is particularly frustrating because you can see the film it should have been. Scenes between Terry and his adrenaline junkie cohorts, particularly a jittery operative named Dino ("NYPD Blue" vet David Caruso), deliver the sense of danger and immediacy that is missing during most of the movie. The film screams for more edgy camaraderie, for more adventure, for anything other than more dreary looks at a half-assed romance.

And half-assed is the operative term. Aside from some intense gazing, which can be interpreted several different ways, scant evidence of romantic feelings appear onscreen. A love scene between Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan was filmed, then scrapped by director Taylor Hackford. Consequently, a smooch between Terry and Alice late in the film left me thinking, "Where the hell did that come from?"

The incongruous kiss is just one part of a poorly written script that plays like a rough draft rather than a finished product. Alice and Terry are each assigned one painful burden in a pale attempt to flesh them out. For Alice, it's the memory of a miscarriage. For Terry, it's the knowledge that his globetrotting job has strained the relationship between him and his son. Is anything of substance done with this information? No.

The script is equally inept when depicting Peter's life in captivity, shooting for a "Midnight Express" vibe, but failing because the captors are left as stereotypes instead of people. The caricature status given the terrorists is so blatant that, when one kidnapper displays an exceptional level of animosity towards Peter, it's obvious he is merely being set up as an identifiable target for the grand finale. Besides Peter, only one character at the guerrilla camp is allowed to be human, fellow prisoner Eric Kessler (Gottfried John, another white guy, of course).

"Proof of Life" gives viewers a great beginning, solid action near the end and a closing scene between Terry and Alice that wants to be haunting and poetic, but falls flat because the script fails to provide sufficient groundwork for the relationship. The film's long, droopy middle leaves good actors straining to wring substance out of filler. Russell Crowe uses his great physicality to carry the home-front portion of the movie and the talented David Morse manages to add some oomph to the anemic camp scenes, but Meg Ryan comes off as simply inconsequential. In supporting roles, David Caruso is wiry and appealing, while Pamela Reed is strong as Peter's fiercely protective sister, even though the script quickly softens her fire and ships her away.

Ultimately, "Proof of Life" takes a great idea and turns it into an overlong exercise in missed opportunities, punctuated by a few powerful sequences that show what would have happened had the writer focused on psychology and adventure instead of uncooked mush.

Copyright 2000 Edward Johnson-Ott

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