Proof of Life
dir Taylor Hackford scr Tony Gilroy
with Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse, Pamela Reed, David Caruso, Anthony Heald, Stanley Anderson, Gottfried John, Alun Armstrong, Michael Kitchen, Margo Martindale, Rowena King
release US 8.Dec.00; UK 2.Mar.01
Warners 00/US 2h15 3 out of 5 stars
Review by Rich Cline
Outta my way. Alice and Terry (Ryan and Crowe) run for cover...
This fascinating thriller about kidnap negotiators has a lot going for it--a strong story, excellent actors and an intriguing setting. These things keep the film going, even if it's not terribly well put together. Alice and Peter (Ryan and Morse) are an idealistic couple who move around the world helping those less fortunate. Now in South America working on a dam, Peter is kidnapped by a renegade political group. Alice is shattered until Terry (Crowe), a professional negotiator, arrives like a knight in shining armour to get proof that Peter is alive ... and to begin a complex dialog to get him home alive.

Hackford makes several subtle mistakes that undermine the film's potential. He never gives us a proper point of view; we spend too much time with Terry (on another assignment in Chechnya, in London, with his pals) and Peter (struggling to survive in grim conditions), leaving the story's real heart (Alice!) out in the cold. As a result, Ryan's performance is strong yet never gripping or particularly convincing, and the whole film feels unsatisfying. There's still plenty in here to recommend it though, starting with another superb role for Crowe, who brings his trademark balance of intelligence and muscle. The story is refreshingly free of cliches, examining honestly a complicated, difficult situation. And the film looks fantastic (I'm not just saying that because it was filmed in Ecuador, where I grew up). It has an authentic feel that makes up for the poor editing and a couple of dodgy plot points. Even the big climactic action set piece goes against expectations in a way that makes it startlingly believable. But the film itself could have been much more insightful and telling if it had stuck to a singular point of view.

[themes, violence, language] 22.Dec.00

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2000 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall