Proof that not even the combo of Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan guarantees a hit movie!
Fresh off the success of 2000's Gladiator, it seemed a sure bet to everyone that Russell Crowe's next picture would be a huge event. When Warner Brothers paired Crowe with box office favorite Meg Ryan, all signs pointed to another smash hit. Then rumors of a torrid affair between Ryan and Crowe hit the tabloids, and the old saying "no press is bad press" seemed to prove untrue. Rather than reap in big box office bucks, Proof Of Life tanked. Did it get a fair shot? Let's take a look, as Proof Of Life tries to find new life on DVD.
Facts of the Case
Peter Bowman (David Morse of The Green Mile) is working to build a dam in the Latin American country of Tecala, a hotbed of terrorist activity. Though Peter's project will result in better living conditions for the Tecalan people, Peter's wife Alice (Ryan) is tired of living outside of the U.S. and wants to return home. Peter and Alice argue the possibility of Alice returning to the states without Peter. The next morning, a terrorist group called the ELT kidnaps Peter. Prior to the end of the Cold War, the ELT was once an organization with a Communist agenda. Now they simply thrive on the ransom of rich foreigners. Terry Thorne (Crowe) works for an organization called Luthan Risk. Once a soldier in the British armed forces, Terry is now a professional hostage negotiator. Though Alice is frantic at the news about Peter, she and Terry establish a relationship of trust, as he begins to negotiate with the ELT for Peter's release. Terry is very good at his job, negotiating over radio with the ELT for a proof of life—some sort of guarantee that Peter is actually alive. Meanwhile, Peter is dragged at gunpoint through the jungles of Tecala and given just enough food to sustain life. When Peter's company reveals that Peter wasn't insured for kidnapping, Luthan Risk calls Terry away from the assignment. Alice is forced to hire a less experienced local to continue the negotiation. Forsaking his company, Terry returns to Tecala to finish what he began. As the negotiation heats up, so does the relationship between Terry and Alice. Terry is torn between his love for Alice and his sense of duty. If Terry successfully returns Peter, he'll never be able to be with Alice.
Like the old adage, Proof Of Life is a jack-of-all-trades, but a master of none. Part romance, part action-thriller, part buddy picture, and three parts Casablanca, Proof Of Life never quite impresses in any of these areas. As a romance, Proof Of Life fails to spark. A crucial element to pulling off this love triangle is ensuring that the audience actually believes that Ryan and Crowe should be together. This film has many similarities to Casablanca, not a bad film to rip off, certainly. But unlike Bogie and Bergman in that film, the sum of Terry and Alice isn't equal to the parts. Terry is a workaholic with a non-existent relationship to his teenaged son. He'd rather gallivant around Tecala than be a father. Alice, like Peter, believes in service to society, but she is disillusioned after her recent miscarriage. There is no reason to believe that Alice are a good match and so we don't root for the coupling. Indeed, the off-screen romance between Crowe and Ryan must have been hotter than what we get on-screen from Terry and Alice. Proof Of Life avoids the very real sexual complexities that would arise between two adults in a situation like this. In retrospect, a chaste relationship between the two romantic leads of a film in the year 2001 is a very bold choice by the filmmakers. Unfortunately, it was the wrong choice for this film. None of this is to say that Crowe and Ryan aren't good in the film. Crowe has yet to turn in a bad film performance. Ryan is sufficiently weepy, confused and sexy.
As an action-thriller, Proof Of Life, never quite gets off the ground. The theatrical trailer (also included on this disc) is terrific. It gives a feeling of perpetual motion. Not so in the actual film. Much time is spent with Crowe negotiating over a short wave radio, with Ryan pacing in the background. The interludes in which we see Peter and his captors running around the jungle break up some of the monotony. By the time the third act begins, and Terry must engage in combat with the ELT it's too little, too late. It actually pulls us away from the romance just when it starts to get going.
David Caruso (remember him from TV's NYPD Blue?) takes the Claude Rains role here as Terry's pal and work associate Dana. Caruso's a little too over-the-top and by the end of the film he's merely denigrated into a bad buddy movie cliché.
Proof Of Life is presented in its original aspect ratio, an anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1. Warner Brothers should be commended for another reference-quality video presentation. The transfer is free from blemish or grain, the colors are solid and I noticed few if any examples of edge enhancement. Similarly, the audio presentation of Proof Of Life is exceptional. The Dolby Digital 5.1 mix really cooks when it has it comes to the action sequences. The surrounds serve to enhance the viewer's involvement in the sequence. Dialogue plays cleanly with minimal distortion. Also included is a French 5.1 mix, dubbed in Quebec. English and French subtitles round out the audio options.
Director Taylor Hackford contributes a screen-specific audio commentary to the disc. Hackford has much to say about the film and it is obvious he has a passion for the subject and for filmmaking in general. Hackford has a tendency to state the obvious (most people who listen to commentaries have seen the film first), but he has several interesting anecdotes to offer. It's definitely worth a listen if you've enjoyed the film.
Also included is a 15-minute documentary The Making Of Proof Of Life hosted by David Caruso. The feature offers a look into the Kidnapping and Ransom industry, which actually does exist. Crowe, Ryan and Hackford all contribute interviews to the documentary. It's a nice feature to have on the disc, as it shows several behind-the-scenes moments, and relates some interesting production stories. The aforementioned theatrical trailer is also included on the disc, as are the typical cast and crew filmographies.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Proof Of Life does have some good moments, one of which involves the local negotiator that takes over for Terry at one point. Crowe evokes fellow Aussie Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon by convincing the corrupt local that he's crazy and winning back control of the negotiations. Also, Proof Of Life should be given points for showing that guys named Terry can kick ass too.
Proof Of Life is an unexceptional film given exceptional treatment on DVD. The film itself never really impresses despite a valiant effort by Crowe and Ryan. If you're a die-hard fan of either actor, it may be worth a rental.
Guilty! Proof Of Life wasn't quite proof enough.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
• Commentary by Director Taylor Hackford
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