Proof of Life

Crowe Is The Real Proof Of Life
Original review written: December, 2000

Some films have publicity already built in before a single advertising dollar is spent. Proof of Life is one of those films. Before anyone had heard anything about the story or any buzz on the film itself, they knew Proof of Life as the film that brought together Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe, prompting Ryan to leave her husband, Dennis Quaid, for Crowe. It’s the stuff of tabloids, to be sure, but it is also the stuff of Hollywood lore, yet another behind-the-scenes soap opera that we get to watch unfold on screen. Not so fast. If the hope of seeing the incredible chemistry unfold between Crowe and Ryan onscreen may be the reason you plunk down your $9, you will be sorely disappointed. But if you paid your admission to see a good movie, you’ll be slightly more contented.

The Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe romance will certainly be the legacy of this film. That’s too bad. While there are some serious problems with the film overall, it isn’t a waste of time and Crowe’s performance, yet again, is the best part about it.

Australian Russell Crowe first broke through to American audiences in 1991 in the Oscar-winning L.A. Confidential and furthered his movie-star status in this year’s box-office smash Gladiator. Last year he was nominated for an Oscar for Best Actor for his amazing performance in The Insider. Crowe is one of the best actors on the Hollywood scene today and he was the reason I went to see Proof of Life in the first place. Fans of Crowe’s will not be disappointed. Although he spends much of the film brooding and looking sullen, he still manages to pull it off. He’s just that good.

Meg Ryan, on the other hand, is completely miscast. She plays Alice Bowman, the wife of Peter Bowman (David Morse) an American engineer who is kidnapped by guerillas in the South American mountainous country of Tecala and who hires Crowe’s character Terry Thorne, a kidnap-and-rescue expert, to find her husband. When Peter’s company abandons him, Alice is left on her own, until Terry takes her case, mostly out of pity. That pity apparently turns to other feelings, as a romantic attraction supposedly brings the two together. Test screenings reportedly forced filmmakers to edit out scenes of Terry and Alice doing more than just gazing into each other’s eyes, because audiences felt it too cold for a wife to be making out with someone while her husband is being held hostage in the mountains. A good call, to be sure, but the resulting edits require the audience to imagine the romantic chemistry between the two, and a good imagination is definitely needed. Crowe is good enough to pull it off, but Ryan isn’t.

Although Meg Ryan’s bread and butter is romantic comedy (When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail), she has been successful in a couple of dramas. I found her to be quite compelling in both When a Man Loves a Woman and Courage Under Fire, but she is totally mismatched in Proof of Life and fails to have the power to carry off this role. She appears to be all gangly and aloof, distant and cold. Director Taylor Hackford, best known for An Officer and a Gentleman and most recently The Devil’s Advocate, doesn’t get any good moments from Ryan, who is upstaged at every turn by Crowe, by far her dramatic acting superior.

As for the story, it is all over the place. Proof of Life is a rambling, slow-paced study in hostage negotiations, but it still has its quality. The scenes of Peter’s captivity are stunning, especially since the film is shot on location in the mountains of Ecuador. The rescue scene seems to wrap up a little too neatly, but, by that time, we’re ready for it and can forgive momentary contrivances.

Fortunately, the payoff comes at the end of the film when Russell Crowe proves that he is one of the best actors in Hollywood today. I dare say that he is poised to become the next Harrison Ford, if he continues putting action films on his resume. But, unlike Mr. Ford, Russell Crowe will soon add a golden statue to his award case. Not for this film, but he is due. Trust me.

My rating: *** Worth paying matinee price