Inspired by a Vanity Fair
article, Proof of Life
is that rarest of Hollywood commodities: the exploration of an original idea. Kidnapping may have graced our screens in the likes of Ransom
, but the revelatory material here exposes a billion dollar industry. Engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) is the kidnapee. Anti-government guerrillas in the fictional locale of Tecala in South America are his captors. More central to the plot is negotiator Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe's first role after Gladiator
). His wavering professional ethics allow him to overlook the fact that Bowman's company has reneged on the insurance payment, but don't prevent him from developing feelings for Bowman's wife Alice (Meg Ryan). Cutting between the threads, the film benefits from Crowe and Ryan's obvious chemistry as well as an atmosphere of tense reality provided by the lush locations. Perfectionist director Taylor Hackford insisted on filming in Ecuador despite the studio's better judgement. The crew suffered a consistently hostile environment, but the jungle helps in maintaining a believable threat against Bowman's life. What's ultimately discovered by each of the principals is that they all had more to prove to themselves than they'd ever realised.
On The DVD: From an animated menu there's the obligatory trailer and page of cast and crew names. The surprise in the latter is that it's static--No further information! A 14-minute HBO documentary hosted by David Caruso makes up for that. Mini-interviews with all the cast are intercut with behind-the-scenes footage. You see Morse losing weight as they shot, learn that there are 30,000 kidnappings a year and that the crew suffered a drifting wind of tear gas one day. The best feature is Taylor Hackford's commentary, which is breathlessly crammed with information. He talks about the detailed research undertaken on the script, which highlighted Columbia as the world's kidnap centre and London as the K&R (Kidnap and Rescue) reciprocal centre. The most fascinating fact is the reason for a deleted sex scene between Ryan and Crowe. While editing it, Hackford was about the last to discover they'd become an item off-screen. Ryan's lasting objections mean it's not included on this disc. A terrific 2:35:1 ratio dazzles the eye with the Ecuador landscapes, and the 5.1 surround does wonders for Danny Elfman's edgy score.--Paul Tonks