Proof of Life (2001) from Johnny Web (Uncle Scoopy; Greg Wroblewski)

Proof of Life is an ambitious film. At 135 minutes, it attempts to show an epic start-to-finish case in the real world of hostage negotiation. Russell Crowe plays a major league hostage negotiator who is hired by insurance companies and other interested parties to get the hostages back alive at the least possible cost.

David Morse plays a globe-trotting engineer who is building a dam in a fictitious South American country when he is captured by guerillas and held for ransom. The captors are not leftists or terrorists with a political agenda. They are entrepreneurs who use hostages as an additional profit center, to go with their coca fields. His wife (Meg Ryan) struggles to get him back after the kidnapping, and Crowe is her only hope.

 The movie seems to know what it is talking about, and the process is portrayed with diligence. The events in the film are fictitious, but it is a fiction that might be real, a composite of actual cases described in William Prochnau's non-fiction essay "Adventures in the Ransom Trade".

It's not a bad film at all. It looks great. It is acted effectively. It has some great scenes.


 It disappointed at the box office, and I think the reasons were something like this:
  • The (ostensibly unconsummated) romance between Crowe and Ryan was tacked on as if an afterthought, and it was completely inappropriate. Ryan was distraught over her husband's situation. Slipping into an attraction with the rescuer was an infidelity that makes us like her character a lot less. How would you like it if you were captured and tortured by terrorists, and your wife was back in a soft bed in an expensive apartment making nice-nice with Russell Crowe? It is said that the director filmed a sex scene between them, but wisely cut it. It would have been completely inappropriate, and would have caused us to hate both of them for their cavalier disregard of the husband's situation.
  • The movie is long (135 minutes), and the story could be much more compact. In the set-up phase, Crowe is seen rescuing a hostage in Chechnya. This established his character, and showed how the captors and the local governments all try to swindle the negotiators, but had absolutely nothing to do with the rest of the story. It could easily have been excised. The same points were made later in the story when Crowe had to leave the case for reasons too complicated to detail here, and a local negotiator took over temporarily. In fact, that first scene sort of telegraphed that Crowe would eventually abandon the negotiations and just take the husband back in a guerilla raid, so the entire process of hostage negotiations seemed to drag on for no purpose. And watching a negotiation is far less entertaining than watching guys raid a mountain camp. During the boring, interminable negotiations, I kept waiting for Russ to get off his duff. There is also a lot of unnecessary badinage between the wife and her sister-in-law. I can't think of any reason why they didn't cut the sister-in-law out of the script entirely.

In fact, if I were charged to make a re-write on this, I would have either:

a. cut out the sister-in-law entirely to shave running time and make the film more taut


b. switched Meg Ryan to the sister-in-law role, make her unmarried, and let Crowe have an affair with her, which would have been completely sympathetic, completely understandable, and would have allowed the wife to stay focused on her husband. 

I prefer solution A to make it a more solid action film, but Hollywood would probably have chosen solution B if they had thought of it.

DVD info from Amazon.

  • Widescreen anamorphic, 2.35:1

  • Full-length director commentary

  • Making-of documentary

It is a good DVD, an excellent transfer of a film with some spectacular mountain and jungle photography in Ecuador. The cinematographer was Slavomir Idziak, who was Kieslowski's favorite DP. It has some solid extras.

But the big disappointment is that it did not include any deleted scenes.

The rumored sex scene between Ryan and Crowe was nowhere to be seen,

Whether it was the right decision to cut the footage, whether the footage exists - all that doesn't matter. What does count is that we don't get to see it, one way or t'other.

The Critics Vote

  • General consensus: between two and a half and three stars. Ebert 2.5/4, Berardinelli 2.5/4, Apollo 80.

  • Rotten Tomatoes summary. 41% positive overall, 30% from the top critics.

The People Vote ...

  • With their votes ... IMDB summary: IMDb voters score it 6.6, Apollo users a very impressive 90/100. 
  • With their dollars ... disappointing. It grossed only $32 million, on a $65 million dollar budget.
IMDb guideline: 7.5 usually indicates a level of excellence, about like three and a half stars from the critics. 6.0 usually indicates lukewarm watchability, about like two and a half stars from the critics. The fives are generally not worthwhile unless they are really your kind of material, about like two stars from the critics. Films under five are generally awful even if you like that kind of film, equivalent to about one and a half stars from the critics or less, depending on just how far below five the rating is.

My own guideline: A means the movie is so good it will appeal to you even if you hate the genre. B means the movie is not good enough to win you over if you hate the genre, but is good enough to do so if you have an open mind about this type of film. C means it will only appeal to genre addicts, and has no crossover appeal. D means you'll hate it even if you like the genre. E means that you'll hate it even if you love the genre. F means that the film is not only unappealing across-the-board, but technically inept as well.

Based on this description, this film is a C+.

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