You can bunk on it

Proof of Life rating: Watchable

Content written by Tony Macklin. Originally published on December 14, 2000 in Las Vegas CityLife.

The unconvincing Proof of Life is a missed opportunity

There is something major missing in Proof of Life. When Director Taylor Hackford decided to cut a steamy sex scene out of the film, he emasculated it. What is left of the romantic relationship between Russell Crowe (Terry Thorne) and Meg Ryan (Alice Bowman) is one kiss, and one kiss does not passion make. Its like taking the meat out of the stew, or the plum out of the pudding; it leaves only broth. One has a hard time imagining these two ever got together off-screen.

Proof of Life is the story of an idealistic engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) who is kndnapped by a corrupt liberation army in a Latin American country. His wife Alice (Ryan) turns to a freelance expert (Crowe) to negotiate a recovery of her husband. But the relationship between Thorne and Alice doesnt deliver. Instead of letting them loose, director Hackford muzzles them.

The film drags at the beginning and stalls when any of the characters converse. Fortunately, the action sequences perk things up, especially during a slambang finale. But when a director veers away from the power of his stars, he gets in trouble. Hackford dims the chemistry of his two leading actors. Crowe has more chemistry with David Caruso, who plays his ally Dino, than he exhibits with Ryan. In fact, Crowe has more chemistry by himself. He has a great presence--he is an actor who continually seems to smolder beneath a cool surface. But even Crowe is ill-served by a lengthy shot of him at the end, in which he almost squirms, and seems to be thinking, "Hackford wants me to act. What the hell am I doing here?"

The irrepressible Ryan seems like she is looking for Seattle. One thing that makes Megs role look a little better is the thankless part played by Pamela Reed as Janis, Bowmans sister. Hackford cant decide what Reed is, and therefore she is nothing. The falsest moment in the film is when Thorne pecks her on the cheek. Pecks? Russell Crowe never pecks!

When he left "N.Y.P.D. Blue" on TV, David Caruso thought hed be getting the roles Crowe is. Hes not. But although its a secondary part, at least Caruso has a good role as Thornes cohort. For a change hes likable, as he was on "N.Y.P.D." Morse, another refugee from TV, has found a solid niche in movies. But one would guess it would run 99-1 from women deciding whom to go with--the strong, silent Crowe or the whiny Morse.

Proof of Lifes screenplay--by Tony Gilroy--was "inspired by" an article in Vanity Fair, and the book The Long March to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove. Inspiration is hardly what has resulted. "Kinda suggested" might be a better term.

Most crucially, that Hackford got nervous with the passion of his two stars, did not serve him well. A mainstream director has a problem. Often films shy away from scenes that might upset someone in the audience. Like American Beauty, which saw its script change so the Kevin Spacey character did not have sex with the young girl, Hackford hacked away lust and its commercial risks. He also hacked away meaning.

Ryan got the big bucks, $15 million--her biggest payday--and she got Crowe. The girl is on a winning streak. So what if the film isnt much. As Taylor Hackford stews, Ryan and Crowe are laughing all the way to the bunk.


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