Proof of Life



US 2000
director : Taylor Hackford
script : Tony Gilroy (inspired by an article by William Prochnau, and the book
Long March to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove)
cinematography : Slawomir Idziak
editing : John Smith, Sheldon Kahn
stars : Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse
135 minutes

Proof of Life is a very old story, off screen as well as on. The plot is a standard Hollywood action-adventure staple, despite the topical references to Chechnya and Somalia. When a well-meaning but ineffectual American, Peter Bowman (Morse) is kidnapped in the Ecuadorian jungle, his desperate wife turns to hostage-negotiation expert Terry Thorne (Crowe). But as the days stretch by, Alice and Terry find themselves falling in forbidden love.

It’s a well-worn tale – but not quite as familiar as the behind-the-scenes problems that made Proof such a troubled project, a classic ‘difficult’ shoot: over schedule, over budget, with an increasingly desperate director fighting against the elements, the fates, the movie gods, to get his ‘vision’ onto celluloid in time for the all-important Christmas release. When the movie bombed in the US, Hackford then tried to exonerate himself by blaming Crowe and Ryan, and the publicity that was generated by their real-life romance – leading to a very public war of words with the no-nonsense Crowe.

It’s hard not to sympathise with the actor on this one – Proof seems to have gotten away from the director, to have spiralled out of his control, and his attempts to salvage matters in the cutting room are only partially, choppily successful. It takes forever to get going, then laboriously alternates between Morse’s hardships in captivity and Crowe’s patient games of brinkmanship with his abductors. Back-story involving Morse’s oil-corporation employers, is clumsily garbled, while Pamela Reed is wasted in the promising role of Janis, Peter’s sister.

Luckily, as in the story, Crowe steps in to saves the day almost single-handed. Though Thorne is an underwritten role, Crowe gives it solidity, introducing an unusually authentic masculine presence for such a big-budget movie. His energy provides the impetus that carries things along at a reasonably entertaining, engaging clip, and he’s also got the acting chops to pull off the quieter scenes, his sense of humour and intelligence adding depths the script probably doesn’t really deserve. He manages to make the Casablanca-style finale genuinely poignant, when in retrospect it’s really just a melodramatic contrivance. Like so much else in the movie, sad to say.

for a longer review of Proof of Life, including quotes from William Prochnau’s on-set diary, click here

11th April, 2001