[box cover]

Proof of Life

It was inevitable. Whether Proof of Life was bad or good, it was always going to be known as "you know, that one where Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe got together." And since that's the case, it's probably better that it's not a very good movie — at least the real-life romance between the film's stars didn't unfairly sink a potential classic. Proof of Life is tepid at best; director Taylor Hackford's attempt to juggle an action-adventure flick with a Serious Drama undermines both parts of the film, which is unfortunate, since the core concept is a good one. Crowe stars convincingly as K&R (kidnapping and ransom) consultant Terry Thorne, a former soldier who travels the world negotiating for hostages' freedom. He's assigned a case in the fictional South American country of Tecala (a thinly veiled substitute for Colombia), where oil company engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) has been abducted by a radical terrorist group. As Terry works with Peter's wife, Alice (Meg Ryan), to obtain evidence that Peter is still alive — the titular "proof of life" — and negotiate a ransom, he gradually falls for her, complicating both his professionalism and her loyalty to her husband. Hackford, who was inspired by an article in Vanity Fair, rightly sensed that the world of K&R insurance is a fascinating one; had he focused solely on that aspect of the movie and turned Proof of Life into a true action film (albeit a thoughtful one), he might have had a winner. Hints of what might have been are evident in the sharp scenes between Terry and fellow K&R man Dino (David Caruso) and a few fast-paced sequences in the Andean mountains. But both Alice and Terry's involvement with her bog the movie down. For one thing, it's hard to understand exactly why he's so smitten. Sure, she's button-cute (she is Meg Ryan), but her character doesn't go much deeper than the flowy skirts and combat boots Hackford has her wear to prove she's a free spirit. Ryan does her best to pull off the dramatic role, but she's not given enough to work with. Ultimately, Proof of Life is unsatisfying. Since the audience can't revel in either the total triumph of romance or rescue, they're left frowning at the screen. However, the film's gorgeous landscapes and colorful South American marketplaces look very good on DVD — the widescreen transfer (2.35:1) is crisp and clear. The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio is good too, in both the English and French tracks (English and French subtitles are also available). Warner's disc offers several extras, most notably a chatty commentary by Hackford that was recorded about a month after the film's release — i.e. after the Ryan/Crowe romance hit the tabloids but before Hackford publicly blamed the relationship for the film's dismal box office performance (the director is similarly loquacious on Paramount's An Officer and a Gentleman DVD). He dishes a little about the duo on the DVD, saying he cut a big love scene between Terry and Alice because of negative audience reaction at pre-release screenings (apparently he wanted to include the scene on the DVD but was nixed by Ryan). Other extras include cast and crew filmographies, a 14-minute behind-the-scenes documentary called "The Making of Proof of Life," and the trailer. Snap-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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