Proof Of Life

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The ViewAuckland Review

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Review byMatthew Turner28/02/2001

2 out of 5 stars
Running time: 135 mins

Occasionally interesting hostage drama, badly let down by the woeful mishandling of the central relationship.

Proof of Life arrives in the UK having already achieved a certain notoriety as the film which kick-started the well-publicised affair between its two stars, Meg Ryan and Russell ‘Gladiator’ Crowe.

Given the somewhat prurient interest in the film then, it’s a pity that director Hackford has chosen to scale back on the relationship between the two leads, preferring instead to opt for largely unspoken sexual tension between them, which in turn scuppers any interesting ideas the film may have had.

The film is set in the fictional city of Tecala, Mexico - a place with a roaring trade in cocaine production and a revolutionary movement that has discovered the lucrative financial sideline of high-profile kidnapping.

Meg Ryan plays Alice Bowman, whose dam-building husband Peter (David Morse) is kidnapped on his way to work, the morning after a row between them that had ended with Alice deciding to go back to the States.

News of Peter’s kidnapping brings hostage negotiator Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) - who we’d already met in the film’s prologue, indulging in some Bond-ian heroics- into the picture, as the insurance company’s ‘K & R’ (Kidnap & Ransom) man.

Initially a hardened professional, he drops the case when it’s revealed that Bowman’s near-bankrupt oil company employers (the dam appears to be a front for a pipeline) neglected to pay any kidnap insurance. However, he soon decides to take the case on his own, finding himself drawn to Alice in ways he never quite articulates (though we can guess).

Meanwhile, the film cuts between Peter’s ordeal with the guerilla group in the mountains and the developing relationship between Alice and Terry, while painstakingly filling in the details of the negotiation process (getting the ‘proof of life’ of the title, the back-and-forth haggling over the ransom price and so on).

To be fair, the mountain sequences of the film are engaging and watchable (despite the convenient disappearance of a minor character towards the end) and the film’s descent into straightforward action territory in the climax is well-handled.

What lets the film down, however, is the central relationship between Ryan and Crowe - at no time do either of them ever really articulate their feelings for each other.

This means that the audience is left to fill in the gaps, which is frustrating and doesn’t really work - apparently a sex scene was filmed, but later cut, meaning that the characters behave as though they’ve slept together, even though they apparently haven’t, all of which makes for a very confusing final scene.

That said, there are a number of other elements to enjoy: the scenery is fantastic (mostly filmed in Ecuador), there’s a pleasingly international cast of British, American and South American actors, and the basic facts behind the story (drawn from a Vanity Fair article and a book about a kidnapping) are intriguing.

There’s also good support from Pamela Reed (as Ryan’s sister-in-law) and David Caruso as Crowe’s gung-ho mate ‘Dino’, who gives a performance so over-the-top it verges into so-bad-it’s-good territory.

Ultimately, however, the film is disappointing, and you’re left wondering how much better it would have been if they’d explored the relationship between Alice and Terry, and her guilt-ridden conflict over rescuing a man she’s no longer in love with.

Watchable, but a frustratingly wasted opportunity for something better.

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Content updated: 21/09/2019 23:53

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