Meg Ryan shouldn’t curse. I came to this conclusion while watching Taylor Hackford’s Proof of Life, a movie that I admittedly did not really feel any enthusiasm towards while it was playing in the theaters. Now that the movie is on video, I found myself watching it, and actually enjoyed it quite a bit. Why? Many reasons. It has reasonably good performances by all involved, and the movie is bookended by two thrilling action sequences. Is that enough to make a movie? Maybe not, but it was enough to make this one.
Proof of Life stars the versatile Russell Crowe as Terry Thorne, a professional hostage negotiator for a London insurance company who decides to go private with an old friend, Dino (David Caruso), after his insurance company realizes the latest kidnapped victim, Peter Bowman (David Morse), is no longer covered. Terry takes on the private job out of guilt that he had to coldly turn down Peter’s wife, Alice (Meg Ryan), when the facts of Peter’s (lack of) coverage surfaced. Peter has been kidnapped by rebel guerillas while working as an oil engineer down in a South American country that is currently going through a bloody revolution.
Proof of Life handles itself very well. Like Crowe’s Thorne character, the movie knows its stuff, and the political intrigue of the South American country is exciting and involving, even if they come across as just a little too convenient. The bit parts are well cast, and Pamela Reed, playing Peter’s sister and Alice’s sister-in-law, acquits herself nicely as the hotheaded but compassionate Janis. Reed also proves to be more than capable of holding her own alongside movie star Ryan, and shows tremendous range that, to be frank, outshined her topbilled co-star.
Proof of Life will also be notable because Meg Ryan is in a rare dramatic role and swears a lot, smokes, and downs longnecks like there’s no tomorrow. Oh, and she also swaggers quite a bit and wears tight clothes and forgets to put on a bra. What does all this mean? Well, it means Meg Ryan is trying to shed her squeaky clean, good girl image and cutesy-pie roles. Does she succeed? Not really, but her character is not all that important to the movie, so it doesn’t really matter.
On the other hand Russell Crowe convinces as a hostage negotiator who treats the process more like a game than an actual attempt to save a man’s life. Complicating matters is that Thorne starts to fall for Alice (Gee, didn’t see that coming). After he goes private, Crowe teams up David Caruso, in a much-needed career boost. Caruso’s Dino is brash, ambitious, and sees Thorne’s growing attraction for Alice almost immediately — even before Thorne himself realizes it. When the negotiation breaks down, it’s Dino and Thorne who puts on the jungle fatigues and goes hostage hunting.
Taylor Hackford handles the action and the talky scenes equally well. After an exhilarating hostage rescue and extended action sequence in the beginning, the movie slows down quite a bit. Peter’s abduction by guerilla forces notches the action up again, but just a bit. In-between Alice and Thorne’s attempts to negotiate Peter’s freedom, Hackford and the writers intercut with Peter’s miserable journey through the jungles and finally to the guerillas’ mountain hideout.
From time to time, we get the feeling that the filmmakers got lost, and sometimes the continuity doesn’t quite work. For example, we’re told it’s been months since Peter was captured, and yet the action back at home, with Thorne and Alice, doesn’t seem to have moved anywhere between the characters or with the negotiation itself. The movie feels disjointed and uneven, but Hackford makes us forget all the little imperfections with a slam-bang ending that wears you out with edge-of-your-seat tension.
Proof of Life is not a perfect movie, but it does know its subject. The hostage negotiations are handled superbly. Thankfully, the movie’s romance between Alice and Thorne isn’t at the forefront, but instead churns awkwardly in the background. And last but certianly not least, Meg Ryan really shouldn’t curse.
Taylor Hackford (director) / Tony Gilroy, William Prochnau, Thomas Hargrove (screenplay)
CAST: Meg Ryan …. Alice Bowman
Russell Crowe …. Terry Thorne
David Morse …. Peter Bowman
Pamela Reed …. Janis Goodman
David Caruso …. Dino