When someone in Proof of Life says "Don't leave me hanging," you can bet they're going to be left hanging. That's what happens when Alice Bowman (Meg Ryan) learns that her husband Peter (David Morse) has been kidnapped by rebels in the (fictional) Latin American country of Tecala. He's building a corporate-funded dam there, and that makes him a fine target for kidnap by the rebels, who barter with the lives of well-insured executives. Enter Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), former soldier-turned-"K&R" (kidnap and ransom) negotiator for a global firm that collects a commission for rescued hostages. With no guarantee of payment, Thorne takes the job out of moral obligation (and a yearning for would-be widow Alice). There's little room for delicacy in Tony Gilroy's screenplay, adapted from an article by William Prochnau and the book Long Road to Freedom by kidnapping survivor Thomas Hargrove. A hint of romance between Crowe and Ryan (who enjoyed plenty of it off-screen) adds tension as the story shifts back and forth to Morse's captivity, but it also threatens to cast Alice in an unsympathetic light. Avoiding that pitfall, director Taylor Hackford crafts the plot as a latter-day Casablanca that unfolds on a grander canvas (at stunning locations in Ecuador) while favoring an exciting rescue-mission climax over the tragedy of an ill-timed affair. It might have worked better as a straightforward macho action flick (with David Caruso doing lively work as Crowe's gung-ho K&R cohort), but Proof of Life effectively conveys the two-sided torment of a hostage crisis, while Morse holds it all together as the character to root for. --Jeff Shannon
Production: Warner Bros. Pictures
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