PROOF OF LIFE (2000)

Reviewed by Cherie Jung

Starring: David Morse, Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Caruso
Director: Taylor Hackford
Screenplay: Tony Gilroy
Adapted from the book Long Road to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove (who was himself a survivor of a kidnapping) and an article by William Prochnau.

Rating: R
Format: DVD, VHS

The setting is South America. The lush scenery of Ecuador stands in for Columbia which is given the fictional name Tecala. Peter Bowman (David Morse) is trying to build a dam. He's an engineer who sees himself as the answer to the local people's suffering caused by uncontrolled flooding. Unfortunately, he works for an oil company. That makes him a target for rebel forces when they stage one of their random kidnappings. Kidnapping well-insured businessmen has become the method of choice for rebels who have long since given up any pretext of having a political cause or motivation. Relatively speaking, it's easy money.

Alice Bowman (Meg Ryan) is Peter's unhappy wife. If only this character had been cast differently or filmed differently, the movie might have been pulled off a better showing. (From comments made by the director, I know that the character was originally written differently but Ms. Ryan insisted upon changes.) Meg Ryan's character is generally unpleasant to watch, and the ridiculous clothes she is attired in make one wonder if a costume designer really was anywhere near the set.

Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) is a skilled negotiator in the "kidnap and ransom" game. We first see him in action in Chechnya as the film opens. David Caruso's character is also a "K&R" (kidnap and ransom) operative, working for a rival company. Both men are negotiating for the release of hostages in Tecala.

There are two sides to this story. Peter Bowman, as a kidnap victim and Terry Thorne as a negotiator. It's not just a matter of whether or not Thorne can negotiate a price for Bowman's release. Bowman must survive the kidnap ordeal. David Morse's portrayal of Peter Bowman's grueling ordeal was nearly flawless. Russell Crowe and David Caruso both turned in excellent performances, and believable performances of field operatives. The weak link in this movie is Meg Ryan. If her performance had been trimmed considerably, the overall impact of the movie would have been heightened. Instead, the movie becomes mediocre and unsatisfying.

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