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Proof of Life

movie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Proof of Life

Starring: Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe
Director: Taylor Hackford
Rated: R
RunTime: 135 Minutes
Release Date: December 2000
Genres: Action, Romance, Suspense

*Also starring: David Caruso, David Morse, Pamela Reed, Alun Armstrong, Michael Kitchen, Mario Ernesto Sanchez

Review by Harvey Karten
No Rating Supplied

Lest you think the picture might be called "Woof of Life," this film--which takes place on the roof of life high in the Ecuadorian Andes--is far from a dog. But think of what Costa- Gavras could have done with the K&R (kidnap and ransom) theme! Slashing Tony Gilroy's script, which thoroughly demonizes the South American terrorists by making them virtually faceless and with only the slightest nuance of real emotional feeling, Costa-Gavras would have given at least equal time to the hardy mountaineers who live all-year-round amid a gorgeous panorama but without the use of toilets, showers or L.L. Bean catalogues. What really drives them, and do they all think alike? Imagine as well what Martin Scorsese could have done with the smoldering romance between a miscast Meg Ryan and the sexy Russell Crowe! In "The Age of Innocence," Scorsese successfully employs Michele Pfeiffer as an unconsummated diversion for Daniel Day-Lewis--bound to marry the socially equal but (to him) unappealing Winona Ryder. This we could believe.

"Proof of Life" is apportioned into two motifs: one is the struggle of Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) to work out a ransom payment with a troupe of E.L.T. terrorists (patterned perhaps by Peru's Marxist Sendero Luminoso guerrillas), who have captured a man who works for an oil company, Peter Bowman (David Morse). Thorne is salaried by a large British insurance company that guarantees executives the ransom money should they be kidnapped. The company uses Thorne throughout the world's hotspots to negotiate the exorbitant demands of abductors from outrageous initial sums like six million dollars down to more reasonable six-figure payoffs. He is not asked to liberate the captives. He merely dickers with the abductors and delivers the cash. The other motif is Thorne's simmering liaison with Alice Bowman, the victim's wife, who, together with the quarry's sister Janis Goodman (Pamela Reed), is eager to gain Peter's release. At least at first, that is. Given the obvious physical attraction of Terry and Bowman--who have met with each other for a period of over three months while the ransom is negotiated, "Proof of Life" gains points by allowing the audience to wonder whether they will throw the desperate Peter to the wolves and take off together into the sunset. To up the ante, director Taylor Hackford captures a tumultuous scene that could have come from Edward Albee's "Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf." Before the abduction, Alice and Peter are having a virtual knock- down, drag-out squabble, with Alice insisting that they leave the (fictionally named) country of Tecala in South America and return home to Dallas while idealistic Peter contends that by building a dam, he is doing considerable good for the population and must remain where he is for a while longer.

While Slawomir Idzak's camera captures all the resplendent beauty of the stunning mountain ranges, land wide enough to keep the guerrillas hidden from the government for years, only a couple of scenes exploit the dangers of traversing the slopes. In one dramatic spectacle, Eric Kessler (Gottfried John), a Bible-toting French missionary who is tolerated by the guerrilla band by pretending that he is insane, makes a grand leap that would be the envy of the nightly divers at Acapulco's La Quebrada. In another, Peter is sent from one peak to another in a flimsy, would-be funicular like a fluttering bed sheet whipped across a roped trail by a sudden 100 mph gust.

The action scenes are strictly by the numbers, starting with a James Bond-like opening that displays the muscular Terry Thorne delivering cash to desperate Chechen kidnappers who must raise money to continue their battle for independence against the Russian government. The final shootout involving the mowing down of abductors is not without a few thrills, but there's nothing there that we haven't seen in any video-games parlor. Pamela Reed's Janis Goodman is obviously a strong, independent woman of some means but is reduced here to a wimpering, simpering housefrau as dependent as the likewise weeply Alice Bowman on the big strong savior. And the armed band of revolutionaries are shown as an undisciplined group of cartoonish bandidos who have lost all awareness of their political program and are simply in the business of making money through a trade in cocaine.

David Caruso turns in an appealing role as Dino, Terry's competitor in the insurance negotiation business who lines up behind him in a rescue effort. Russell Crowe is dependently strong, taking moments out from time to time simply to ponder his options as he did in the role of Ridley Scott's eponymous Gladiator. Though the film includes a few product placements such as a Hertz rental station and a passenger aircraft of British Airways, the real commercial is for Ecuadorian tourism. Who needs to get seasick gaping at the turtles of Galapagos when you can ascend from the colonial, cobble-stoned streets of Quito to the smashing heights of the Ecuadorian Andes?

Copyright 2000 Harvey Karten

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