|Proof of Life
If ever anyone I know is abducted, I'd want a guy like Terry Thorne
(Russell Crowe) on the case. Thorne, the leading character in the new Warner
Bros. release Proof of Life, is a "K&R" (that's kidnapping and ransom) specialist
with a large multinational insurance company based in Blighty. After an adventure
in Chechnya, he's sent to the South American hot spot of Tecala (a fictional
country situated near the Andes) in order to facilitate the release of American
engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) who was in the wrong place at the right
time and captured by guerrilla forces. Thorne arrives to oversee the case and
immediately impresses the bohemian Mrs. Bowman --Alice (Meg Ryan) -- and
her uptight sister-in-law (Pamela Reed). Once it becomes clear that the company
that hired Peter has gone bankrupt and is the target of a takeover, however,
Thorne packs up and leaves. Alice uses her puppyish charms to plead with him
to stay and help rescue Peter, but the business wins out and Thorne returns
to London where his estranged teenage son (you know there relationship isn't
close when the kid calls his father "Sir"). Still, something about Alice Bowman
nags at him.
There wouldn't be a movie if Thorne didn't grow a conscience and return
to Tecala to aid Alice, and, of course, that's exactly what he does. Proof of Life
is an old-fashioned (and I mean that in the complimentary sense) thriller that
twenty or thirty years ago might have been directed by Costa-Gavras (Z, Missing).
Here Taylor Hackford -- no stranger to politically-themed romances (e.g.,
White Nights) -- directs with an almost documentary style, crisscrossing
between the growing closeness of Alice and Terry and the experiences of Peter
as he is carted off into the Andes. Hackford establishes a nice rhythm and
handles the action scenes well. Reportedly test audiences rejected some of
the romantic scenes between Ryan and Crowe, so the romantic aspect of the
relationship is more muted, perhaps to the overall benefit of the story.
In Russell Crowe, the director has a perfect leading man. Building on the
charismatic machismo he projected in L.A. Confidential and Gladiator but
infusing his performance with touches of the sensitive guy he excelled at in
his early work (Proof, The Sum of Us), the New Zealand-born actor assumes
the mantle of the laconic hero personified in earlier eras by Humphrey Bogart
and Harrison Ford. Crowe has a sly, powerful presence that captures the screen
and holds audience interest, even when his character is still. Terry Thorne is
part seducer -- that's his negotiating skill -- part commando, and Crowe
skillfully merges the two sides to form a fascinating character.
The biggest problem with Proof of Life is that Crowe is matched with
a lesser talent. Meg Ryan has garnered a reputation as "America's Sweetheart"
(albeit this is now somewhat tarnished by her off-screen relationship with
Crowe that has proven a boon for the tabloids) in a series of romantic comedies
like When Harry Met Sally... and Sleepless in Seattle. Since her early days
on the daytime drama "As the World Turns," she has never been a wholly
satisfying dramatic actress. To be fair, she is capable of fine work in isolated
scenes, as in Courage Under Fire, which perhaps stands as her best
serious work to date, but mostly there is a curious lack in her work. She seems
completely incapable of building and sustaining a powerful screen persona.
The audience is asked to accept Alice as a free-spirit but Ryan can't seem
to capture that aspect of the role. She does have an occasional moment,
such as a quietly affecting scene in which she recounts a miscarriage.
T he supporting roles are handled well, with Pamela Reed as Ryan's
sister-in-law, David Caruso as a mercenary and David Morse as Peter
standing out. Cinematographer Slawomir Idziak captures the natural beauty
of the Andes and editing of Sheldon Kahn and John Smith keeps the story
well-paced, although Hackford stretches some of the action for a bit too long.
Proof of Life was inspired by true events: Tony Gilroy's screenplay is
based in part on the Vanity Fair article "Adventures in the Ransom Trade"
and the nonfiction The Long March to Freedom. Although not without
its flaws, the film is an enjoyable and engrossing drama that unfortunately
doesn't quite achieve the level of greatness to which it aspires.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some drug material
Running time: 135 mins.
|© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.