Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring:||Russell Crowe, Meg Ryan, David Caruso, David Morse, Pamela Reed|
|Producer:||Charles Mulvehill, Taylor Hackford|
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.
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.”