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.


               
Rating:                       C
               
MPAA Rating:              R for violence, language and some drug material
               
Running time:              135 mins.
© 2005 by C. E. Murphy. All Rights Reserved.