Directed by: Taylor Hackford
Written by:Tony Gilroy
Starring: Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse, Pamela Reed, David Caruso
Released: March 1, 2001
Grade: A-

I have developed a new appreciation for Russell Crowe following the brilliant performance he has given in Proof Of Life.  Not only does is show that his Oscar nominated turns in both The Insider and Gladiator were no flukes, it shows that an actor need not overplay every role to make it seem different.  Sticking to his guns, Crowe kept his Australian accent (which is accommodated into the screenplay by having the character born in Australia).  He just wanted to play the character as is and tried to shelve the stereotype that some have of Australians (provided by films like Crocodile Dundee).

Proof Of Life is different from the very start.  The open 20 minutes introduces us to the key players.  We meet Terry Thorne (Crowe) at a debriefing following his latest successful K&R (kidnap and ransom) negotiation.  He helped bring the ransom down from $5,000,000 to a mere $750,000 and secured the safety of the captee.  In South America, Peter Bowman (Morse) and his wife Alice (Ryan) are seeing their dreams fall apart.  Peter is overseeing the construction of a dam but back in the States, the company has gone bust and he's left without a job.  Things are a little strained between the two.

Having developed the premise, the film kicks into gear.  When driving to work one morning, Peter is set upon by a terrorist group and taken hostage.  Terry Thorne is called in by the insurance company to begin negotiations but on discovering the company is uninsured he is ordered to return back to the States leaving a distressed Alice without a prayer.  Somehow though, this has become personal.  He can't leave Alice stranded and secretly returns (unknowingly to his employer) to help secure the return of Peter.

We have seen many films in the past deal with terrorism, kidnapping and ransom but this is both real and suspenseful.  Just think that it could happen to you.  As Terry explains the motives behind the kidnappers, you’ll understand how much is at stake and how if you play their game, much can be gained.  It's not a mere matter of talking them down and solving the problem within a day.  Money is all that counts and you have to find just the right amount that gets the job done within the right time frame.

The final half hour features an incredible action sequence which I won't detail.  It is well shot from a variety of camera angles and gives a full appreciation for the situation and its perils.  It's reminiscent of great war sequences we've seen before in Platoon and Apocalypse Now.

Not only is Crowe's performance one of his finest, David Caruso and Pamela Reed give great support with developed roles.  The weakest link was Meg Ryan who does little more than get weepy in a few scenes.  She doesn't stand a chance against the talent around her and can I ask the make-up crew why her hair is so perfect in every scene?  A better casting choice would have put this film up with the year's best.

Taylor Hackford (The Devil's Advocate) has crafted a powerful film that has made the most of the budget and talented crew.  It's hard to look past all the controversy surrounding the relationship breakdown between Crowe and Ryan which many believe (including the director) has contributed to a poor U.S. box-office.  On screen, they don't exactly make a sizzling pair and thankfully, the romance side of the movie is underplayed.  So, disregard what you've already heard and make sure you see Proof Of Life.