Proof of Life


Ryan and Crowe: making love and war.
  • Ryan and Crowe: making love and war.

Rambo in a business suit, ex-British Special Air Services operative Terrence Thorne (Russell Crowe, Gladiator), is an expert consultant in the business of “K&R,” kidnapping and rescue, capable of executing six-figure deals — or hostile objectives. His mission? Recovering Alice Bowman’s (Meg Ryan, You’ve Got Mail) husband Peter (David Morse, Dancer in the Dark).

A Peace Corps-type couple gone yuppie, the Bowmans find themselves in Tecala, South America, in a luxurious ranch house complete with servants. Peter heads a corporate dam-building project that he swears is “for the people,” not a new oil pipeline. But Alice can’t buy it any longer: After five months of struggling to keep the faith, she argues that they’ve sold out. Peter struggles to buy it himself. When guerrilla grunts of the Liberation Army of Tecala, the ELT, drag him at gunpoint from his BMW convertible, he offers the phrase as part of his freedom plea. But grubby ELT officers brush the words aside as offensive paternalism, an insult to their intelligence. Their ransom demand is $5 million in U.S. currency. Thorne explains to Alice that financial negotiations will commence only when the ELT sends proof of life: proof that her husband is still alive.

In Proof of Life, war is business and business, war. Thorne and the ELT represent two sides in a cold conflict based on the trade of executive hostages that could erupt in violence, bullets flying, with one false move. The Tecala government schemes against the guerrillas in a bid for international legitimacy. Businesses strategize against each other in moves that could be disastrous for ELT interests.

Writer Tony Gilroy (Armageddon) weaves his plot as a rich web of stratagems and consequences based on William Prochnau’s Vanity Fair article, “Adventures in the Ransom Trade.”

But other, more intimate battles are interpersonal and internal. Thorne and Alice are both bound by duties that seem to go increasingly against their hearts. Crowe and Ryan depict the dilemma of their characters with depth and intelligence. Their portrayals are at the heart of this drama in action-movie gear, its true proof of life.

E-mail James Keith La Croix at