Proof of Life

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This article is about the film. For other uses, see Proof of Life (disambiguation).
Proof of Life
Proof of Life film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Taylor Hackford
Produced by Taylor Hackford
Charles Mulvehill
Written by Tony Gilroy
Starring Meg Ryan
Russell Crowe
David Morse
David Caruso
Gottfried John
Music by Danny Elfman
Cinematography Sławomir Idziak
Edited by Sheldon Kahn
John Smith
Castle Rock Entertainment
Bel-Air Entertainment
Anvil Films
Distributed by Warner Bros.
Release dates
  • December 4, 2000 (2000-12-04) (United States)
Running time
135 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $65 million
Box office $62.8 million

Proof of Life is a 2000 American kidnap action thriller film directed by Taylor Hackford. The title refers to a phrase commonly used to indicate proof that a kidnap victim is still alive. The film's screenplay was written by Tony Gilroy, who also was a co-executive producer, and was inspired by William Prochnau's Vanity Fair magazine article "Adventures in the Ransom Trade,"[1][2] and Thomas Hargrove's book The Long March To Freedom [3] in which Hargrove recounts how his release was negotiated by Thomas Clayton, played by Russell Crowe, who went on to be the founder of kidnap-for-ransom consultancy Clayton Consultants, Inc.

The picture stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe. It is perhaps best remembered as the film during which the two lead actors had a romantic affair. At the time of filming, Ryan was married to Dennis Quaid, but the two divorced in 2001. The film garnered much reportage in the tabloid press in association with the lead actors' affair.[4] The film is dedicated to Will Gaffney, an actor who was David Morse's stand-in. He was killed in an on-set accident during a scene in which Morse was not available, due to a family illness.[5]


Alice Bowman (Meg Ryan) moves to the (fictional) South American country of Tecala because her husband, Peter (David Morse), has been hired to assist with building a dam. Though Alice is unhappy at this most recent move, she agrees to stay. When Peter is in the city one day, a convoy of automobiles (including his) is ambushed by guerrilla rebels of the Liberation Army of Tecala (ELT). Believing that Peter actually works for an oil pipeline company, ELT soldiers abduct him and lead him into the country's jungles.

Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), an Australian former member of the British SAS, arrives in Tecala, fresh from a successful hostage rescue in Chechnya (Chechenskaya Respublika). Because of his expert skill in kidnapping-and-ransom cases, he is hired by Peter's company to assist in bringing about Peter's safe return. Unfortunately, it turns out that Peter's company actually has no insurance coverage for kidnapping, so they cannot afford Thorne's services. Despite Alice's pleas to stay, Thorne leaves the country. Alice gets teamed up with a local hostage negotiator, who immediately urges her to pay the ELT's first demand: a $50,000 "good faith" ransom payment. Not knowing what to do, Alice agrees, but the transaction is stopped by Thorne, who, following his conscience, has returned to help. He is aided by Dino (David Caruso), an ex–Green Beret.

Over the next several months, Thorne uses a radio to talk with an ELT contact, and the two argue over terms for Peter's release—including a ransom payment that Alice can afford. With much downtime between conversations, Thorne and Alice talk, and an implicit attraction between the two seems to emerge. After much negotiation, it appears that the ELT will release Peter for a sum of $650,000.

Meanwhile, Peter is led through the jungle by a group of younger rebels before arriving at the main jungle camp. There, he meets another hostage, Kessler, a missionary and former member of the French Foreign Legion, who has lived in the camp for nineteen months. The two concoct a plan to escape through the jungle. During their attempt, they are tracked by the ELT. Kessler falls into a river and manages to evade capture, but Peter steps on a trap and is recaptured. Kessler is found and hospitalized. In the hospital, he meets Alice and, having heard a gunshot at the time Peter was recaptured, tells Alice he believes her husband is dead.

Thorne refuses to believe this, but he is unable to contact his ELT radio negotiator. Luckily, Alice's housekeeper's young assistant reveals the true identity of the ELT radio contact; she knows his voice quite well because her mother has done laundry service for him in the past. Thorne goes to the Tecala Armed Forces Demonstration Parade and confronts the ELT contact, who is actually a high-ranking government official. The contact confirms that Peter is indeed alive, but because Peter has seen secret ELT maps the opportunity for a deal has passed, and the ELT army will no longer negotiate.

At Thorne's urging Alice convinces the Tecala government the ELT is about to mount an attack on the pipeline being built through their territory. The government army crossing the river draws the bulk of the ELT army out of the camp to counter-attack. This provides an opportunity for Thorne, Dino, and several associates to insert by helicopter and raid the ELT base. They overcome the resistance of the minimal defense left holding the camp and free not only Peter but also an Italian hostage held there as well. And so Peter is rescued and brought back safely to Alice. Thorne and Alice share a final moment together wherein the unrequited bond between them is painfully expressed, and the movie ends with a poignant image of a lonely hero.



Although the producers wanted to film in Colombia, due to the dangers that guerrillas posed in that country at the time, the movie was mainly filmed in Ecuador. The large piles of money used to pay for the rescue were sucres, the Ecuadorian national currency at the time of the filming. Tecala's geographic and urban appearance and its political characteristics were based loosely on a mix of several Andean countries.

The ELT's characterization appears to be primarily based on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Coincidentally, Colombia's second largest guerrilla group is the Ejército de Liberación Nacional or ELN.

Control Risks, a risk consulting firm, was hired to provide security for the cast and crew while filming on location. The firm also served as inspiration for kidnap and ransom consulting seen in the film.[6]


The Republic of Tecala, where most of Proof of Life is set, is a fictional South American country. Tecala has long been the scene of an internal conflict between its government forces and the Liberation Army of Tecala (ELT). The ELT was originally a Marxist guerrilla group supported by the Soviet Union, but after the Soviet Union's dissolution in 1991, the ELT's primary source of funding fell through, and they began kidnapping people for ransom to fund their operations. A map seen in the film is that of Ecuador. The country's capital Quito was chosen along with the eastern jungle and the nearby city of Baños de Agua Santa in the Ecuadorian Andes.


The film opened in wide release in the United States on December 8, 2000 for 2,705 screens.

The opening weekend's gross was $10,207,869 and the total receipts for the U.S. run were $32,598,931. The international box-office receipts were $30,162,074, for total receipts of $62,761,005. The film was in wide release in the U.S. for twelve weeks (eighty days). In its widest release, the film was featured in 2,705 theaters across the country.[7]


Critical response[edit]

Stephen Holden, film critic for The New York Times, did not think the film worked well and opined that the actors did not connect. He wrote, "[the film displays] a gaping lack of emotional connection among the characters in a romantic triangle that feels conspicuously unromantic... what ultimately sinks this stylish but heartless film is a flat lead performance by the eternally snippy Meg Ryan... Ms. Ryan expresses no inner conflict, nor much of anything else beyond a mounting tension. Even when her wide blue eyes well up with tears, the pain she conveys is more the frustration of a little girl who has misplaced her doll than any deep, empathetic suffering."[8]

Critic David Ansen gave the film a mixed review, writing,

Taylor Hackford's thriller Proof of Life leaves a lot to be desired, but it's got its hands on a fascinating subject...To be fair, Tony Gilroy's screenplay keeps the romance on the back burner...Thorne is the most compelling aspect of Proof of Life, thanks to Crowe's quiet, hard-bitten charisma. It's a part Bogart once would have played—the amoral tough guy who rises to the moral occasion—and Crowe gives it just the right note of gravel-voiced masculinity. But neither Crowe, Ryan nor the topical subject keeps Proof of Life from feeling recycled. For all the up-to-the-minute research, the movie still gives off the musty scent of Hollywood contrivance.[9]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film a score of 40%, based on 115 reviews.[10]


The film was nominated for four Blockbuster Entertainment Awards; Favorite Actor – Suspense, Favorite Actress - Suspense, Favorite Supporting Actress – Suspense and Favorite Supporting Actress – Suspense. Danny Elfman was also nominated for a Satellite Award for Best Original Score at the 5th Golden Satellite Awards, but lost out to Gladiator (Hans Zimmer).

Award Category Nominee Result
Blockbuster Entertainment Awards Favorite Actor – Suspense Russell Crowe Nominated
Favorite Actress - Suspense Meg Ryan
Favorite Supporting Actor – Suspense David Caruso
Favorite Supporting Actress – Suspense Pamela Reed
Satellite Awards Best Original Score Danny Elfman Nominated

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Prochnau, William (1998-05). " "Adventures in the ransom trade." Vanity Fair (453): 134-144. New York: Condé Nast Publications. ISSN 0733-8899.
  2. ^ Prochnau, William. "Adventures in the ransom trade." at Mmegi Online
  3. ^ Proof of Life at the Internet Movie Database
  4. ^ Hollywood Media Corp., 2007. Retrieved: December 30, 2007.
  5. ^ Noel Murray (June 23, 2008). "David Morse". The AV Club. The Onion. 
  6. ^ Prochnau, William (December 2000). "Jungle Fever". Premiere Magazine. 
  7. ^ "Proof of Life". The Numbers. Retrieved November 23, 2007. 
  8. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 8, 2000). "Where Cynicism Rules, Integrity Can Be Heroic". The New York Times. 
  9. ^ Ansen, David (December 11, 2000). "Hostage Heat". Newsweek. Retrieved December 1, 2012. 
  10. ^ "Proof of Life". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 1, 2012. 

External links[edit]