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Movie Review

Proof of Life

MPAA Rating: R for violence, language and some drug material

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
CONTRIBUTOR

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
Action Adventure
Length:
2 hr. 15 min.
Year of Release:
2000
USA Release:
December 8, 2000 (wide)
Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe in “Proof of Life”
Featuring: Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, David Caruso, David Morse, Pamela Reed
Director: Taylor Hackford
Producer: Charles Mulvehill, Taylor Hackford
Distributor: Warner Brothers

film based in part on the article “Adventures in the Ransom Trade” by William Prochnau, and on the book The Long March to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove

This film, revolving around the issues of high-stakes kidnapping and ransom, isn’t quite top-flight, but definitely better than average. The title refers to the tactic of requiring kidnappers to provide a photo of the hostage holding a current newspaper, or some other “proof of life,” in order for negotiations to continue.

Peter and Alice Bowman (David Morse and Meg Ryan) have traveled the world doing good in underdeveloped nations. Now on location in the fictitious South American country of Tecala, Peter is building a flood-control dam (a worthy cause, although it’s being financed by an oil company in exchange for the rights to route a pipeline through the jungle). Alice doesn’t have much to do, and there’s tension between the couple over this situation and over recent events including a miscarriage. But when Peter is kidnapped by anti-government guerillas, those quarrels are forgotten. Alice wants the best negotiator there is, and Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) fills the bill. Although his employers usually pay off kidnappers after he negotiates a reasonable price, Thorne is also trained in commando tactics.

David Caruso in “Proof of Life”

There are a number of twists, including the discovery that Peter’s company had stopped paying premiums on “kidnapping insurance” for its employees, so there’s no money available except what Alice can raise on her own.

Crowe is excellent in his role, as is David Caruso in a supporting role as another negotiator/commando. Ryan and Pamela Reed (as Peter’s sister) are both very good overall, although there are a few spots where their expressed anguish isn’t quite convincing.

Content Warnings: There are several killings (with the usual R-rated special effects) during kidnapping and rescue scenes. Peter and the other hostages are treated well enough under the circumstances, but the kidnappers (who are also drug dealers and in some cases drug users) view them only as a source of income. Peter is addressed by his captors in the Spanish “familiar” form (in this context, a mark of disrespect) and called vulgar names. Sometimes they torture him just for the fun of it (such as striking him on his infected feet). The profanity is extreme, including over 40 uses of f* plus a few uses of the Spanish equivalent. As negotiations progress, it becomes obvious that Alice and Terry are attracted to each other. My impression was that their on-screen kiss, just before Terry boards a rescue helicopter, was their first and last, a combination “good luck” wish and an expression of strong, but not necessarily sexual affection. Other reviewers saw it differently. There’s no nudity and no real sexual content, although the vulgar language includes sexual slang.

Positive Content: Alice and Peter are devoted to each other, despite their differences. Terry, who has committed himself to Peter’s case, is pulled from it by his employers when they discover there’s no insurance money; but he volunteers to come back and work the case on his own. A hostage missionary (Gottfried John) is a great help to Peter (nursing his wounds, comforting him, and risking his own life to cover for Peter having stolen the kidnappers’ map).

The film probably isn’t Oscar material; but I was interested in it not just as entertainment, but also for the fact that such kidnappings (including those of missionaries) occur regularly in some parts of the world. I’m grateful that the “compulsory” sex scene was skipped, and that we were given an old-fashioned story with fearless and competent heroes. For an adult audience, I recommend it as “good of kind.”


Viewer Comments
Proof of Life is a very cool movie. I enjoyed it very much. It has a good bit of language and some violence, but besides that it is a good one. Russel Crowe still lived up to my expectations from Gladiator. My Ratings: [Average / 4]
—Andrew Waits, age 17
I enjoyed this movie a lot. In retrospect, I think the title “Proof of Life” has an alternate meaning for the estranged couple, who found new purpose in their relationship through the trial they endured. Kind of like Stephen Curtis Chapman’s song “Signs of Life.” When you think about it that way (and I can’t help but think the producers intended this), the movie takes on a deeper, more profound meaning. My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Timothy Blaisdell, age 37
I just finished watching this movie about 3 hours ago, so it’s still fresh in my mind. The kiss between Russel Crowe’s character and Meg Ryan’s character was offensive. But you have to look at it in the world’s point of view. Movies today are bound to have some kind of love affair, whether it goes against Christian beliefs is of no consequence. The first time they look at each other, you know it’s coming sooner or later in the movie. And it does. But I do believe it was, more or less, a “good luck” show of affection. The movie doesn’t really get into it. He valiantly dismisses the relationship at the end of the movie, as her husband is safe. She looks back at him and he eventually looks back at her, but it was only because they had been together for the last 110 days working to get her husband back. All in all, a good movie. My Ratings: [Average / 3½]
—Scott Brouwer, age 16
Great movie. Get past the violence and profanity—it’s an R rated movie, you should expect it. Russel Crowe brings back the same selfless hero quality that everybody loved in “The Gladiator” to this movie. This movie shows the true sacrifices some people make to save/protect people that they have never even met. This man leads a life of solitude in order to provide strangers the chance to reunite, and without want of thanks or even payment in this case. He is a hero in every sense of the term. This movie is much more than it appears on the surface. My Ratings: [Very Offensive / 4½]
—Clayton White, age 20
Movie Critics
…Heroic deeds, respect for marriage vows, courage and perseverance all play major roles…
—Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…About 42 F-words… and mild obscenities…
—Kids-in-Mind
…a Christian missionary plays a key positive role in the story…
—Dr. Ted Baehr, Movieguide
…does not live up to the premise of its script or its marquee cast…
—Tanya D. Marsh, The Buzz