Rated R - Running Time: 2:12 - Released 12/8/00

Russell Crowe, having appeared in 1997's best picture nominee L.A. Confidential, vaulted to prominence early this year after his nomination for best actor in The Insider and then his appearance as the title role in one of 2000's major summer blockbusters, Gladiator. Crowe finds himself once again in good position with a notable turn in another excellent film, Taylor Hackford's Proof Of Life. Hackford, having directed movies like An Officer And A Gentleman, Dolores Claiborne, and The Devil's Advocate, turns out another richly textured film, gripping, suspenseful, and brimming with good performances not only by Crowe, but by Meg Ryan, David Morse, and David Caruso, among others.

In a story written by Tony Gilroy, inspired by the article "Adventures in the Ransom Trade" by William Prochnau and the book The Long March To Freedom by Thomas Hargrove, Crowe plays an Australian-born former special forces soldier named Terry Thorne who works for a British company that specializes in hostage negotiations. Terry is assigned to the case of Peter Bowman (Morse), a building contractor working on a dam in Tecala, South America, who is taken prisoner by a group of Marxist revolutionaries when he happens to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. Although he has no ties to the government they are trying to overthrow, the terrorists take him to a camp deep in the mountains and hold him there, claiming they will release him for the tidy sum of $600,000. His wife Alice (Ryan) and sister Janice (Pamela Reed) must try to raise the money while Terry negotiates over radio and telephone with the mysterious voice of the man speaking for the terrorists. As time goes on and weeks turn to months, Peter's health declines, a failed escape causes him some major injuries, and the hope for his survival seems to dim. As if this were not difficult enough, Terry begins to develop feelings for Alice — feelings which, if the rescue effort succeeds, cannot ever be fulfilled.

While this type of love triangle is not exactly a new idea, Hackford and his actors bring it to life in a way that is believable and thrilling. Cutting back and forth between Peter's experiences at the prison camp and the ever-more-frantic situation back home, he keeps the tension high while showing how the time drags on and the situation worsens on both sides. The film culminates with a gripping action sequence that combines the beauty of the lush Ecuadoran jungle (where the prison camp scenes were filmed) with tense, violent combat like we've seen in Saving Private Ryan and Platoon. Ryan, taking time out from lightweight roles (You've Got Mail, Hanging Up), shows she can create an understated, believable character with real depth. She and Crowe are able to convince us of the romantic tension growing between them without overdoing it, and Gilroy's script leaves just enough to the imagination. The theme of hostage negotiation being reduced to a game with certain rules is coldly effective, yet Crowe's characterization of Terry shows that he is sensitive enough to relate in a human way. Caruso and Reed give quality performances in their supporting parts, and Danny Elfman's tense musical score is an equally important presence. *****

Copyright 2000 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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