The hype surrounding the hostage thriller Proof of Life has nothing to do with the story. It's all about the burgeoning love affair of it's Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. It turns out, however, that there is a lot more to see than just secret glances between the stars.
Russell Crowe plays a K&R (Kidnapping and Ransom) specialist for private London-based firm. I was never exactly sure what the specific nature of this business was, but it something to do with negotiating with kidnappers on behalf of wealthy corporations, and if need be, going in and getting the hostages out. Apparently, firms like this exist all over the world. Kidnapping is so commonplace in some of these third-world nations, that an industry has sprung up to deal with it. Meg Ryan plays the worried wife trying to hold up under the strain. When Ryan's husband, David Morse playing a dam builder sub-contracted out by a large oil company, is kidnapped, Crowe's company steps in to retrieve him. There are a lot of maneuverings to get through, but it's fascinating seeing what goes into a carefully planned and executed hostage negotiation. What was also fascinating was how long the process takes. One prisoner being held in a sort of hostage camp/cocaine factory spoke of being held for over nineteen months.
All the acting was good, although the movie starts slow. After a great beginning sequence, the movie sputters a little, and I was having a real problem connecting with the characters. The dialogue all felt stiff and overly dramatic. As it went on, however, either I stopped worrying about it or they got better, because by the end I was totally captivated. I think maybe they tried to throw us right in the middle of character's lives and their problems before we had a chance to come to care about any of them. The movie went up a notch for me when David Carusoe showed up as a competing hostage retriever and old pal of Russell Crowe. I know a lot of people don't like David Carusoe but I think he's gotten a bad rap. He does a good job in whatever he's in and the same goes for this movie. Meg Ryan was in her serious mode and played it well. It was kind of hard to watch her, though, because all I could think about was that she left Dennis Quaid over this whole deal. Russell Crowe is a great actor and is incredibly charismatic, so it's no surprise she would fall for him, but c'mon, he's no Dennis Quaid. Actually, Crowe is the best thing about Proof of Life. He brings weight and importance to whatever role he plays, and you can't take your eyes off him. And, he gets to use his real accent in this film, which is another plus.
Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe in Castle Rock's Proof Of Life - 2000
Proof is exciting, engaging, and energetic. It is also, at times, quiet and thoughtful. I was surprised, actually, at how deep the movie is. Don't get me wrong, it's not Aristotle or anything, but I was expecting a high priced throwaway action flick of the Rambo/Chuck Norris "Gotta get our men outta there!" variety. Instead, Proof of Life is very serious and doesn't pander. It's got plenty of action, but it's no Stallone style free for all. With well written characters and an enthralling storyline, it's proof that Hollywood can give us the best of both worlds, sometimes. Grade: B+
Proof of Life is rated R for violence and language.
I don't usually mention this, but I suggest you get to the movie early if you can. Getting this close to Christmas, we are starting to see previews for next summers crop of blockbusters. At the screening I went to there was a cool teaser for Steven Spielbergs's A.I., and a knock-your-socks-off trailer for The Mummy Returns. This preview was originally attached to copies of How the Grinch Stole Christmas but they had to remove it because it was scaring the children. I believe it, it kind of scared me. It looks great; like a return to the days of Indiana Jones. In addition, there was a trailer for this Christmas' Castaway, which looks like it could be another Oscar shot for Tom Hanks. Don't be late!
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