abbyPOL2edit.jpg (25970 bytes)Proof of Life
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Writer: Tony Gilroy
Also starring: Meg Ryan, David Morse, Pamela Reed, Michael Kitchen, David Caruso.
Scheduled release: December, 2000

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Production Info
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The Stax Report: Script Review of Proof of Life
From Filmforce
Tue, May 23, 2000

Stax here with my reaction to the screenplay for Proof of Life! This 130-page rewrite is by Tony Gilroy (The Devil's Advocate) and is dated July 6th, 1999. Proof of Life is currently filming under the direction of Taylor Hackford (The Devil's Advocate) and stars Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe, David Morse (The Green Mile), Pamela Reed, Michael Kitchen (Tanner in Goldeneye), and former NYPD Blue lead David Caruso. Proof began filming this past March in Ecuador, Poland, and London. Castle Rock, Bel-Air Entertainment, and Pinewood Studios are producing; Warner Brothers have scheduled the film for release on December 15th, 2000. Gilroy's screenplay is based on the May 1998 Vanity Fair article "Adventures in the Ransom Trade" by William Prochnau.

Proof of Life investigates a growing (and very profitable) criminal trade that is now popular in various global hot spots: kidnapping international businessmen in exchange for a handsome ransom to be paid by the wealthy corporation the hostage works for. You may not have heard much about this deadly new international crime wave but it does exist and it has become so problematic that private businesses have been created to help contend with it. These "international consultants" work for the insurance companies who insure various large firms; they employ largely former military and law enforcement-types who will act as hostage negotiators and/or couriers for the ransom. Unofficially, they often provide the only hope and solace for the families of the hostages. The kidnappers range from renegade military-types and political guerrillas to narco-terrorists, and they can be found anywhere from Chechnya to Latin America. Hostages are usually held for extended periods of time, sometimes even up to a couple of years, and endure severe physical and psychological torture at the hands of their captors.

The main characters in this script are former SAS man Terry Thorne (Crowe, whose English character will be an Australian in the film) and Alice Gehrig (Ryan, who landed a $15 million dollar payday for this part), the wife of kidnapped American engineer Peter Gehrig (Morse). Peter works in the fictitious Latin American land of Telacca for the U.S. firm Gem-Carbon. Although Gem-Carbon is the faceless, capitalistic monster that controls the local oil pipeline, Peter is in Telacca purely on a humanitarian mission. He is helping to build a dam for the locals and this major project is his first managerial coup. He hopes it will serve as the springboard for better assignments and higher pay, ending the years of globe-hopping grunt work he has had to endure. Peter's occupation and the constant travel it demands have strained his marriage. Alice tires of living abroad and spending so much time alone. Peter is soon kidnapped by a band of local narco-guerrillas who demand a pretty penny for his return. The problem is that Gem-Carbon has been bought out and the new firm, OXO, wants nothing to do with the Gehrigs' problem.

Into this fray comes Risk Management "consultant" Terry Thorne who bends company policy to help Alice Gehrig try and retrieve her husband. Terry is accompanied on this mission by fellow hard-asses Dino (Caruso) and Wyatt. The tediously complex negotiating process with the kidnappers takes place over several months, more than enough time for romantic tension to develop between Terry and Alice. (We are inter-cutting between the negotiations and Peter's time in captivity.) Against their better judgment, Terry and Alice "complicate" their situation even more by revealing their feelings toward each other. Just as the chances for Peter's recovery seem their lowest, Terry and Dino stick their necks out for the Gehrigs farther than they figured they would have to.

POLthumb1.jpg (23372 bytes)Proof of Life is a very taut and engrossing drama/thriller with good dialogue, memorable characters, and is about a compelling subject. Although the industry trades have played up the romantic nature of the story (the final script could have been altered to focus more on the relationship between Terry and Alice), the draft I read was a plot-driven genre picture that kept me turning the pages until its action-packed finale. This film should serve as a fine follow-up to Gladiator for Russell Crowe; it offers a lot of macho antics for his male fans to enjoy while also showcasing his more vulnerable side that women responded to in L.A. Confidential. Fortunately for Meg Ryan, Alice is not another of her chirpy, smiling elf roles but a world-weary and resilient adult. I do hope that whatever script revisions that have been made since this draft have beefed up her character more. Although she is "the suffering wife," Alice hardly ever breaks down emotionally in this draft. She tries like the devil to keep in control of an impossible situation; it is because Terry "has been (her) rock" throughout this ordeal that Alice finds herself drawn to him. Although their relationship was nicely sketched here, I do hope that it will be developed further in the final film. Not more kissy-face scenes, mind you, but more time spent on them getting to know each other better. One of my favorite scenes in this draft isn't an action sequence but one where Terry and Alice just sit down for a respite and talk about their lives. Gilroy's ear for dialogue helps make what could have been a very manipulative and hokey scene work.

I do have concerns about the degree to which Terry and Alice should act on their feelings. I would much rather see a sexual tension that is implied between two characters (who are not supposed to be together) than to see them act on their feelings explicitly. Take Moonlighting, for example. Once David and Maddie succumbed to their feelings the show never quite worked again. This draft was somewhat vague as to how far Terry and Alice take their forbidden romance (the "cardinal sin" in his line of work) but I think this is a case where the less they do could be a whole lot more dramatic and poignant.

One of my biggest criticisms of David Caruso has been that he never seemed to find the humor in his characterizations. He just always seemed so glum and self-absorbed. Happily, this film may change that perception of him. Dino provides what little comic relief there is this story, with his intermittent sardonic wit helping both the other characters and the reader make it through all the tension okay. It should be noted that Dino is not simply Terry's smart-aleck side-kick; he's more of his partner, every bit Thorne's equal in this dangerous line of work. The most grueling screen work, however, will certainly be reserved for David Morse who plays Peter. Nearly all of his scenes are in the jungle camp (shot in Ecuador), and often alone, where we see the rigors Peter must endure in order to survive his captivity. Morse's inherent integrity and physical brawn should make Peter even more interesting; seeing such a noble, tough guy as Morse being held hostage by young thugs with submachine guns should make for lots of interesting contrasts.

Some people may not like the story's finale too much because that is where the story goes into more conventional genre territory. I don't want to say too much about it because I don't want to spoil it for anyone but some might find the ending derivative of Uncommon Valor, Missing In Action, Rambo: First Blood, Part 2, or even Clear and Present Danger. I understand that criticism but considering that so much of Proof has been of people trapped in a room thick with tension I found this action-packed climax to be a cathartic experience. The rumble-in-the jungle ending also bookends nicely with the script's opening where we are introduced to Terry making a hostage/ransom swap in the dangerous, frozen plains of Chechnya (shot in Poland).

I found Terry's line of work riveting. You see what a dangerous, wearisome, and solitary life he leads: traveling non-stop, constantly in peril, and emotionally exhausted. Alice's entrance into Terry's life reminds him of what is missing from it. Ultimately, though, Terry's job defines who he is. Another aspect I found interesting about "Risk Management" is how business-like they treat life and death. Terry's job is not to play John Wayne with the bad guys but to negotiate a ransom. What is this person's life worth and is this figure acceptable for both sides? (That's why these negotiations take so long and why the captives are held for so long.) One of the first jobs I held when I graduated from college was in the insurance industry. I've had people literally say to me "I'm dying. Please help me." And then I had to deny them coverage, or explain to them why the necessary treatments/drugs they needed were not available to them. All this while my own sister was in chemotherapy and dealing with these same problems. These memories never left me even though I saw how my co-workers viewed "clients" and their tragedies in a detached, practical manner not unlike how Risk Management treats their clientele. Yes, it's life and death but it's also a job and at a certain point one becomes numb to the regular spectacles of trauma they must contend with. I also had a job with Prudential Life Insurance for all of two days. I quit because I couldn't reconcile myself with the fact that what life insurers do is assess what a person is worth in dollars, or what they would have been worth had they survived. Terry's haggling with the kidnappers about what is an acceptable sum for Peter reminded me of those dreadful seminars I attended way back when. In the world of kidnapping (and life insurance), all men are NOT created equal.

Meg RyanI really enjoyed Proof of Life and look forward to seeing it on the big screen later this year. If subsequent script revisions added more dimension to the relationship between Terry and Alice, and perhaps gave Peter's captors more of an identity, then Proof of Life just might snag itself an Oscar nomination or two. This script nicely developed the sexual tension between its two principal characters that grew as the momentum built towards Peter's fate. Proof of Life could have been a hit-and-miss kidnap tale like Ransom, or strictly an action vehicle like The Negotiator, but its exotic locale, sharp dialogue, and gripping subject matter made it a genre tale with enough brains and heart to match its action sequences.
Read more from STAX at Filmforce

Crowe And Ryan Romance Blamed for Film Flop
February 21, 2001 10:49 pm EST LONDON (Reuters)
The high-profile but short-lived romance between Hollywood stars Russell Crowe and Meg Ryan was directly to blame for their latest movie's poor box office showing, the film's director said. "It had an indelible and very destructive effect on the release of the film in the U.S. because the real life story overpowered the film," director Taylor Hackford told reporters before the London launch of the film "Proof of Life" on Wednesday.

Crowe and Ryan, who was married to actor Dennis Quaid, began a much-publicized affair while filming "Proof of Life" in Ecuador last year. Ryan, 38, ended her nine-year marriage to Quaid, but split with Crowe, 37, earlier this year. Crowe, nominated for best actor at both the American and British Academy Awards for his role in the Roman epic "Gladiator," told reporters in London that he was not to blame for the break-up of Ryan's marriage. "The end of her prior relationship had nothing to do with me. Meg Ryan is a beautiful and courageous woman and I grieve the loss of her companionship, but I've not lost her friendship," he said.

The New Zealand-born star said he was looking forward to Sunday's Bafta (British Academy of Film and Television) awards in London which, unlike in previous years, will take place before the Oscars. "I'm from the Antipodes... getting a nomination from the British Academy is to me of equal importance as the American Academy," he said. "I think it's a really smart idea to put the Baftas on before the Oscars. If in the last few years its level of importance has dropped, its repositioning will bring it back the place it should be."
~Thanks to Cheri for posting

From production information at Movie Web:

David MorseABOUT THE ARTICLE THAT INSPIRED THE FILM: One of the things that I like to do are ‘hidden world stories. So, when I was at a Christmas party and met this ‘K&R’ man who told me all these exotic tales about an industry that I had no idea existed, I felt I had uncovered one of the most fascinating topics around," reveals journalist, William Prochnau, who wrote the Vanity Fair article Adventures in the Ransom Trade.

The Vanity Fair article, Adventures In The Ransom Trade by William Prochnau and the book Long March to Freedom: Tom Hargrove’s Own Story of His Kidnapping by Colombian Narco-Guerrillas by Thomas Hargrove, inspired the motion picture, "Proof Of Life." "When I took the story to Vanity Fair, they fell in love with it immediately and told me to go wherever I needed in order to write it," he continues. He further explains, "The first six months were spent just trying to negotiate my way as a writer into this group of people, mostly ex-CIA and ex-British SAS—people who are very used to secrecy and very unused to reporters. They reluctantly let me in because I think they wanted their story told." "I was looking very badly for a kidnapping negotiation to go out on or something like that, but it was just too secretive and touchy for that. However, when I spoke to Susan Hargrove, the wife of Tom Hargrove who was kidnapped in 1994 outside of Cali, Columbia, she unloaded the family end of the story. The extraordinary psychological pressures she and her family faced were so compelling that I became interested in that aspect of the kidnap experience and included it in my story," Prochnau offers.

Titled Adventures In the Ransom Trade, Prochnau’s final article appeared in the May 1998 issue of Vanity Fair. After a year of intense research, travelling between Europe and South America, he exposed a new business to interested readers that has resulted from the growth of today’s global economy in the post-Cold War era. His story caught the interest of Director/Producer Taylor Hackford and his creative partner, Tony Gilroy.

"Bill deserves a great deal of credit because as a very good investigative journalist, he stuck his nose in someplace secret and revealed a lot about a business the general public, and in some cases, even the employees of global corporations know nothing about. Why tell someone who is about to transfer to the Philippines that their chances of being kidnapped are astronomically higher than in Des Moines, Iowa?" comments Hackford. He continues, "I’m always looking for a unique drama in a dynamic setting. When I read Bill’s article, I just went, ‘WOW!’ I haven’t seen or heard this before. Plus this subject contains fantastic interpersonal turmoil that gives rise to very dramatic situations," says Hackford. He continues, "I called my creative partner, Tony Gilroy, and told him to read it. When he did, he agreed that we could create an original story from this material with a huge quotient of emotion and drama, because a kidnapping totally alters the lives of all people involved."

Tony Gilroy explains on transforming a non-fiction piece into a developed screenplay, "There were a thousand movies in that article. The main thing that Taylor and I agreed on was that as compelling as Tom and Susan Hargrove’s story was, we didn’t want to do a real-life story or docu-drama." Hackford and Gilroy were able to talk to more people than Prochnau for their research. Gilroy elaborates, "We told everybody that we weren’t doing a documentary or a real-life story, and they could, if they wanted, just give us an amalgamation of several cases without real names. They didn’t need to reveal where an actual kidnapping took place. We didn’t care-- just as long as we got the material. It’s sort of the opposite of journalism which is why I think people were more willing to talk to us than they were to a journalist." He continues, "Once we had the story and it began to take shape, then it was easier to talk to the ‘K&R’ people and be specific with what we needed, like ‘what would you do in a situation like this?’"

David CarusoAs it turns out, the title, "Proof Of Life," was the easiest part of the screenwriting process. Gilroy reveals, "I got the title the third day in Germany when Taylor and I first met the Hargroves’ since it kept popping up in our conversations. It’s a term in the kidnapping business that is constantly used as you negotiate to prove that the hostage is still alive." He continues, "The title was really helpful in writing the movie because it helped me figure out what our story was about. It just didn’t mean someone holding up a newspaper, but it actually had a thematic resonance for the three main characters. They start off the movie with some serious problems and then go through this dramatic, cathartic change." Hackford adds, "I loved the title ‘Proof Of Life.’ It’s a specific term in the ‘K&R’ business, but in this instance, it’s also about people who have reached an impasse in their life, people who have been stalled emotionally, who are at a crisis point in their relationships. They have this event that rocks them and forces them to contemplate, ‘Why am I here? What am I doing with my life?’"

Meg Ryan, who agreed to sign on to the project after reading the first draft of the script and helped develop her character in the subsequent rewrites, offers, "The significance of ‘Proof Of Life’ for me is how my character rediscovers herself through a really dramatic situation. Through crisis, she’s learning how to become very present in her life.

ABOUT THE CASTING: The story revolves around three characters—‘Alice Bowman,’ ‘Terry Thorne’ and ‘Peter Bowman’-- as played by Meg Ryan, Russell Crowe and David Morse. Meg Ryan was the first to join the movie, which filmed in three different countries, far from the safety of Hollywood. Taylor Hackford offers, "I have known Meg for a long time and thought she would be a wonderful choice for this film. Most people think that Meg’s giddy, comedic film persona is who she really is. In reality she’s serious, intelligent and complex. I sent her Bill’s original article, which she loved, but she knew that we weren’t shooting the article, we were creating a totally new story. Before committing she wanted to see what we were going to do with this material. When she finally read Tony’s first draft, she was immediately excited and had many specific suggestions for her character. When she knew we would be responsive to her idea she signed on."

Meg Ryan, an actress loved around the world by audiences of all ages, volunteers her initial reaction to Prochnau’s article and Gilroy’s script, "I had an absolute fascination because I had no idea that kidnapping was such a big business, or that there was any such thing as kidnap insurance. It was all brand new information that I found really captivating." The casting of Russell Crowe in the key role of ‘Terry Thorne’ proved to be a stroke of luck for the production. Hackford points out, "Russell had done "L.A. Confidential," which I was impressed with. However, I’d heard that Russell had two films in the can, ‘The Insider’ and ‘Gladiator’ that no one had seen. I called both directors who are my colleagues and asked them a major favor: to go into their editing rooms and see Russell’s unreleased work.

I first saw Ridley Scott’s ‘Gladiator.’ I fully expected Ridley to paint a huge canvas, but I was particularly impressed by how Russell Crowe dominated that canvas. His physicality was palpable, but there was also a real intelligence shining through all that physicality," remembers Hackford. "Then I went across town into Michael Mann’s editing room and saw an actor who’d gained forty-five pounds playing an entirely non-physical, intellectual character involved in a crisis of conscience. I thought, ‘this guy is an incredible actor and he’s definitely going to be a star!’ I found myself facing Martin Shafer, President of Castle Rock Pictures and Alan Horn, then Chairman and C.E.O. of Castle Rock Entertainment, now President and Chief Operating Officer of Warner Bros., stating ‘Russell Crowe is the right guy for us,’" recounts Hackford.

Crowe, who packed audiences into theaters with his performance in this past summer’s "Gladiator" reveals, "It’s a pretty similar situation to the other scripts that I read and end up doing in that something within the story is new or fresh. There is a lot of information in this story that we haven’t seen before, the fact that ‘K&R’ is such a huge business and how it directly affects Americans." Regarding his character "Terry Thorne," Crowe states, "He’s got a very good bedside manner. He’s very calm and reassuring to the client, but there is a distance. He has his business sincerity level but at the same time what happens in our story cuts through his ordinarily objective persona where he is affected more emotionally by the people involved."

The casting of the key role of ‘Peter Bowman’ proved to be harder, but Morse’s work in the Castle Rock Entertainment’s "The Green Mile" convinced everyone that he was the right actor for the job. David Morse, who has been working nonstop since he wrapped filming on "The Green Mile," remembers, "I got a call from Martin Shafer at Castle Rock Entertainment and was told to be prepared for a very difficult role—physically difficult. I responded by telling him that it was fine by me, that I’m happy to do difficult things." As the one who is kidnapped, Hackford wanted Morse to lose a great deal of weight for the role. He followed a medically supervised diet and quickly shed the pounds. He endured long hours of hair and makeup as well to ensure that the audience will believe how the hardships of a kidnap experience affect the hostage’s appearance.

Regarding researching the role, Morse reveals, "I decided not to research what it means to be a hostage before we started shooting. I didn’t want to prepare to be a hostage. Instead, I focused on playing a man who came to South America to build a dam and do essentially what he had dreamed of doing for years. So I started the filming with the idea that I’m building a dam and let’s just see what happens when the hostage stuff starts happening." He continues, "Once we did the abduction, I gave Tom Hargrove a call and started to find out what it was like for him. I also had his book, which was confirmation that I was on track. I was very concerned about honoring his experience and in talking to him and through our emails, I got the sense that I was doing okay."

Other key roles belong to David Caruso, who portrays an American ‘K&R’ negotiator, and Pamela Reed, who plays Peter Bowman’s sister. Hackford was also keen on maintaining the international scope of the movie and cast such talented English thespians as Alun Armstrong and Michael Kitchen, German actor Gottfried John and Cuban actor Mario Ernesto Sanchez. In casting the other South American roles, Hackford went to every major South American capital searching for the right actors to play each of the parts. He cast Diego Trujillo in the key role of ‘Eliodoro’ and Vicky Hernandez as ‘Maria,’ the Bowmans’ maid, who both hail from Columbia. In addition he discovered Pietro Sibille, a charismatic young actor from Peru for the crucial role of Juaco, Peter’s tormentor. He also cast two more Peruvian actors; Norma Martinez who plays Diego’s wife, Norma and Laura Escobar as one of the young guerillas. 15-year-old Flora Martinez from Venezuela was also cast to play a teenage guerilla. Plus, Hackford gave a small but key role to Ecuador’s rising new star, Marcos Bustos and recognized the talents of 14-year-old Sarahi Echeverria, also from Ecuador, who makes her acting debut in "Proof Of Life."

"Our cast is truly international. Besides South America, we went to Poland and cast Chechnyans and Russians for the parts that were shot there. There’s an authenticity about these roles, nobody’s phoneying up an accent," Hackford offers. "Ultimately, our stars feed off this fantastic group of international support players and I believe that this collaboration will communicate the reality I was looking for in ‘Proof Of Life,’" Hackford concludes.
--Thanks to voodoodoll for posting!


I saw the film Saturday, December 9 and I loved it. I was expecting a different ending for sure. Russell Crowe was very handsome in the movie as always. I am glad he picked a movie with a great script. He does seem to be more into making a movie worth watching than millions of dollars. The movie keeps you in suspense you know when you like the movie so much you do not want to get up and go to the bathroom, because you might miss something. Well this is how good Proof of Life is. Meg Ryan plays Alice and her character has lots of chemistry with Russell. I enjoyed the movie and so did my husband. So it was alot more than a romance movie, it was action and suspense. thanks.
Rated: Five crowes

This is a story that shows how individuals get affected in the course of political turbulence. A man is kidnapped in a South American country that is mired in political uncertainty - and there begins the trauma for this man and his family. It exposes how our world is an insecure place - and how helpless is an individual. being a citizen of United States still does not ensure that all efforts possible are made for his rescue. An individual is helpless because institutions have their own interests - the US government is making efforts to bring the insurgents to the negotiating table and so it won't make rescue efforts that can jeopardize this process. Big business has its own interests to serve. If there are efforts made, it is because his wife marshals her own personal resources. This is looking at politics from an individualistic viewpoint. One individual cannot be sacrificed today, only so that many can be saved later. Being is more important than Becoming. The story is a condemnation of a possibly revolutionary social movement gone awry (and which comes down to kidnapping and torturing innocent people - all for money), of governments, which ignore people for the so-called policy issues, and of big business for which its profits are more important than a human life. It also reveals the innate greatness of the human spirit - so that a man risks his life to save the husband of a woman - a woman whom he has known barely for months - towards whom he has some delicate feelings - but who knows well enough that there is not much meaning in such feelings. Yet the hero risks his life and saves the woman's husband. In the whole pattern of politics and social movements, it is one man's action driven by the most delicate of human feelings which is liberating - which breaks structures - and which therefore is the light of hope in the darkness of despair all around. The movie is good to watch. Meg Ryan is sweet as always, Russell Crowe is good with an understated performance - what is left unsaid speaks more than what is said. It is indeed a proof of what life is today and what Life is.

I was at the Austrian premiere of PROOF OF LIFE, of course, as a film market we are so little and unimportant - guess what, nobody - who we would have liked to see -was there. I thought PROOF OF LIFE was pretty good, if you had read all the gossip-stories before (I am sure you did) you were prepared to see a bomb. But Tayler Hackford didn't do so much wrong. Meg Ryan was really good, Russel Crowe was laid back and did a good job and the action-sequences were superb and believable, I also have to say, that David Morse did a hell of a job in the mountains. With all the rain, I probably would have died in the first place. This movie is an example how to destroy the reputation of a good movie. The press was to preoccupied with the love-affair, which had nothing to do with the performance of the actors. But I will look forward to the new turn in Russell Crowe's career and the new movie Beautiful Mind.
Rated: Four Crowes

Any Russell Crowe fan will like this movie simply because he is in it. That, of course, is not the only reason I give a high review. The story is very original and very interesting. The multi-billion dollar industry of Kidnap and Ransom is something the average Joe may not be aware of. The acting is great, all around, and yes even Meg Ryan is good in this film. To her critics...she looses her husband to terrorist kidnappers, she is supposed to look and feel like crap (that is the point). I think she did a superb job, personally. And I really have to tell you how GREAT he is? Nope, didn't think so. But also supporting cast here, great. David Caruso, wonderful, delivers the best lines, and David Morse gives a thoughtful performance as well. Cinematography equally impressive. So where does it fall short? Script. This story can't decide between two angles. Do they focus on the love that develops between Terry and Alice or do they focus on David Morse's character and his ordeal? Both deserving of attention, but not in the same movie. Somebody make up their minds here. Also, development of love story most disappointing. But all in all a good RC movie.
Rated: Four Crowes
-- Lisa Andion

I watch a lot of films - good and bad - but there are only a few films, which surprise me. When the film hit the UK it was most talked about for the off screen romance between Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. Apparently most critics decided there was no chemistry on screen between the two - but they must have been watching a different film! The action scenes were great and all the information on K&R made my head spin for a while. You hear it happening all the time on the news but no one ever tells you who organized the release of the hostages and at what personal cost. David Caruso played off Russell Crowe well and provided comical relief. "Proof of Life" will find it's way into my DVD collection.
Rated: Five Crowes
-- Viola Arthur

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