Proof of Life, directed by Taylor Hackford
Now playing at the Crossroads, Lighthouse, 41st Avenue, Green Valley, the Riverfront, and Scotts Valley, Proof of Life is the latest film directed by Taylor Hackford, who also did Devil's Advocate, Dolores Claiborne, and Officer and a Gentleman. This movie is based on an article in Vanity Fair by William Prochnau and so, we presume, itís loosely adapted from a factual account of the business of K and R, or Kidnap and Ransom. Apparently, certain companies that work in terrorist infested areas and have wealthy CEOs obtain K and R insurance, which provides them with funds in the event of a kidnap and ransom request. In this story, there is correspondingly a small group of ex-military guys "mostly special ops" who specialize in the negotiation process, retrieving the kidnapped CEO and doling out as little of the funds as possible.
Hackford's other films have all featured really fine and top billed male actors such as Richard Gere and Al Pacino, so itís a testimony to Russell Croweís rapid rise to stardom that he is the leading man of the story, a taciturn type by the name of Terry Thorne. Terry comes in to orchestrate the negotiation for Peter Bowman (played by David Morse), an engineer building a dam in an unidentified Central or South American country that we come to realize is Peru (the movie was actually shot in Ecuador), because its terrorists, Marxist revolutionaries who survive through the sale of cocaine, resemble Sendero Luminoso, or The Shining Path. Peter loudly protests his non-relation to the pipeline company that finances the dam and threatens to undermine the economy of the country in question, not to mention its coca crop. So part of the plot details the gradual coming-to-consciousness of overly naïve well-meaning liberal crusaders "Peter keeps insisting that the dam will help the people of the country" and the corruption and greed of American multinationals.
Meg Ryan plays Peter's wife, who comes to trust Terry's ability to negotiate for the life of her husband. When the company pulls out of the rescue effort, Terry returns to help her out, on his own dime, we presume, and for reasons other than the altruistic love of justice. The unrealized undercurrent of romance that runs through their relationship is in part what keeps this movie interestingly tense and exciting to watch. Ryan and Crowe are both good actors, though Ryan is definitely miscast as a hippie-type wife who was never quite into the multinational gig to begin with (and so, one wonders, how did she end up married to that guy?)
The movie is ideologically contradictory, and this is both what makes it a serious film and also what leaves one somewhat unsatisfied. Unlike some of the blatantly xenophobic action films coming from Hollywood, this one does not automatically presume that brownskinned terrorists in Central and South American countries have a disregard for human life and spout meaningless rhetoric while being just as greedy and unscrupulous as the rest of the world. The organization in question is realistically portrayed, with young idealists, disciplined comrades, and a justifiable cause. There are the humane among them as well as the irrational and dangerous. All in all, they treat Peter pretty well. But when it comes time for the heroes to prevail, well, so much for humane treatment, and the revolutionaries get immediately demoted to the ranks of disposable bad guys. In the end, anti-corporate sentiment does not become a kinder gentler way of dealing with the third world.
This is a serious movie, a good action and suspense film, and a film that features some fine acting. It also raises some interesting and important political and ethical questions, and tries to keep several narrative threads going at once, quite successfully. If you are looking for a more sober alternative to the saccharine or comic holiday movies, go see Proof of Life. Looking for trouble at the movies, for KUSP and the film gang, this is Carla Freccero.
Copyright Carla Freccero 2000