Proof of Life

| December 13, 2000

This is my kind of movie! If I were ever to actually make a film, this is what I would want it to look and sound like. The texture is terrific and everything seems real. Proof Of Life is a thrilling action adventure told against the background of a romantic triangle, not unlike the classic Casablanca (1942). While not up to that lofty standard, this is a solid entertainment. Reviews have been mixed, but exit polls have been favorable. Rated “R” due to violence and language, at a running time of 135 minutes, there isn?t a wasted frame of film.
As the opening credits roll, we are introduced to Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) who is hired by wealthy corporations as a negotiator who works to secure the release of employees that have been abducted for ransom. Next we meet American married couple, Alice and Peter Bowman (Meg Ryan, David Morse) at their rented villa in Tecala, a fictional South American country said to be the world’s second largest supplier of cocaine. While husband Peter feels that his work as a dam builder is important for the locals’ welfare, wife Alice is ready to return home. Shortly after this argument, Peter is kidnapped. Terry is then called into help secure his release. A strong attraction between Alice and Terry is soon evident. The balance of the film deals with attempts to free Peter from the rebels holding him for ransom in the mountains.
A product of the University of Southern California, Director Taylor Hackford directed two of my top favorite films, An Officer And A Gentleman (1982) and Against All Odds (1984). I’m also a big fan of another two of his earlier successes, Dolores Clairborne (1995) and The Devil’s Advocate (1997). Given the right material, there?s no other currently active director that does work that I like more.
Meg Ryan is one of the few actresses that can consistently open a movie. Include me in as a fan, but she probably has as many detractors as she does fans. She is effective here, but I prefer her in “perky” mode parts for films such as When Harry Met Sally (1989) and Sleepless In Seattle (1993). Also, I loved her in the perverse and little seen Addicted To Love (1997). At the other end of the scale, I thought she was miscast and absurd as a helicopter commander in Courage Underfire (1996).
With this role, Russell Crowe cements as position as leading man and major movie star. He has an amazing range that includes great performances in LA Confidential (1997) and The Insider (1999). Earlier this year, he did strong work in Gladiator (2000). I suspect there’s an Oscar in his future.
In supporting parts, both David Morse and David Caruso are excellent, while Pamela Reed as husband Peter’s sister is wired and will make my annual best supporting actress list. Screenwriter Tony Gilroy is one of the three sons of Pulitzer Prize winning playwright, Frank D. Gilroy (The Subject Was Roses). Tony also wrote the script for The Devil’s Advocate (1997) and was one of the ten folks that took a crack at writing the script for Armageddon (1998). His fraternal twin brothers John, a successful film editor, and Dan, an actor, are also in the biz. Further, Dan is married to actress Rene Russo, with whom he has a child named Rose. What a lineage; her name must be a tribute to grandfather Frank’s play, The Subject Was Roses (1968), and if I were an agent, I’d try to sign her up now!
International veteran cinematographer, Slavomiridziak, has more than 20 films under his belt, mostly from France and Poland. His work here is award worthy. Also, the editing is exceptional. Credit for it is shared by two time Oscar nominee, Sheldon Kahn of the USC school of cinema, and John Smith, whose earlier major credit is Leaving Las Vegas (1995).
Few filmgoers will have missed the tabloid news that the married Meg Ryan (Mrs. Dennis Quaid) fell for Russell Crowe while making Proof Of Life, similarly to what occurs on screen between Alice and Terry. Not since the days when Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton steamed things up on the set of Cleopatra, way back in1963, has there as much coverage of this type on and off camera affair. Clearly, there is chemistry and the camera does pick it up this time. Although it was shot, appropriately, a big love scene is left out of the final cut of the film and all we get to see is a kiss. I’ll be looking for this deleted scene when the DVD is released!
I recommend Proof Of Life and grade it an 8 ½ out of a possible 10.

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