Proof of Life

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Proof of Life
Proof of Life film.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byTaylor Hackford
Written byTony Gilroy
Based on
"Adventures in the Ransom Trade"
Produced by
  • Taylor Hackford
  • Charles Mulvehill
CinematographySławomir Idziak
Edited by
Music byDanny Elfman
Distributed byWarner Bros. Pictures
Release date
  • December 8, 2000 (2000-12-08) (United States)
Running time
130 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$65 million[1]
Box office$62.8 million[1]

Proof of Life is a 2000 American action thriller film directed and produced 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 an executive producer, and was inspired by William Prochnau's Vanity Fair magazine article "Adventures in the Ransom Trade",[2][3] and Thomas Hargrove's book Long March to Freedom,[4] in which Hargrove recounts how his release was negotiated by Thomas Clayton, who went on to be the founder of kidnap-for-ransom consultancy Clayton Consultants, Inc.

The film stars Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe.


Alice Bowman (Meg Ryan) moves to the (fictional) South American country of Tecala because her engineer husband, Peter Bowman (David Morse), has been hired to help build a new dam for oil company Quad Carbon. While driving one morning through the city, Peter is caught in traffic and then ambushed and abducted by guerrilla rebels of the Liberation Army of Tecala (ELT). Believing that Peter is working on Quad Carbon's oil pipeline, ELT soldiers lead him through the jungle.

Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe), a former member of the British Special Air Service, arrives in Tecala fresh from a successful hostage rescue in Chechnya. As an expert negotiator in kidnapping-and-ransom cases, he is assigned by his company, Luthan Risk, to bargain for Peter's safe return. Unfortunately, it is learned that Quad Carbon is on the verge of bankruptcy and takeover, and therefore has no insurance coverage for kidnapping, so they cannot afford Thorne's services. Despite Alice's pleas to stay, Thorne leaves the country. Alice is then assigned a corrupt local hostage negotiator, who immediately urges her to pay the ELT's first ransom demand: a $50,000 "good faith" payment. Not knowing what to do, Alice agrees, but the transaction is stopped by Thorne who (due to his conscience) has returned to help. He is aided by Dino (David Caruso), a competing negotiator and ex–Green Beret.

Over the next few months, Thorne uses a radio to speak with an ELT contact, and the two argue over terms for Peter's release—including a ransom payment that Alice can afford. Thorne and Alice bond through the ordeal, and become intimate. They eventually negotiate a sum of $650,000.

Meanwhile, Peter has become a prisoner at the ELT's jungle base camp. There, he befriends another hostage named Kessler (Gottfried John)—a missionary and former member of the French Foreign Legion—who has lived in the camp for nineteen months. The two concoct an escape plan, but during their attempt they are quickly tracked by the ELT. Kessler falls into a river after being shot in the shoulder and manages to escape, but Peter steps on a trap and is recaptured. Kessler is found and hospitalized. Thorne's ELT contact subsequently refuses to respond to his calls. Luckily, one of Alice's young maids recognizes his voice over the radio and reveals he is a government official. Thorne confronts the contact, who confirms that Peter is alive, but because of the ELT's escalating war with the government and Peter's knowledge of the terrain, the ELT will no longer negotiate.

At Thorne's urging, Alice and Kessler convince the Tecala government that the ELT is mounting an attack on the pipeline being built through their territory. This forces the government army to mobilize, thus forcing a bulk of the camp's ELT troops to mobilize for a counter-attack. Thorne, Dino, and several associates are then inserted by helicopter and raid the weakened ELT base. They overcome the camp's soldiers, free Peter and another hostage, and then fly back to the city, where Alice happily reunites with her husband. Thorne and Alice share a final intimate moment before the latter departs with Peter on an immediate flight to the U.S.



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. 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 provided contacts for character inspiration for the kidnap and ransom consulting seen in the film.[5]

The movie end credit and post-script says: "Inspired by the VANITY FAIR article 'Adventures in the Ransom Trade' by William Prochnau and by the book Long March to Freedom by Thomas Hargrove.


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.[1]


The score was by Danny Elfman. Several songs were written by Christian Valencia. The song, I'll Be Your Lover, Too, written and performed by Van Morrison, plays over the closing credits. The soundtrack was released on Varèse Sarabande.

Death during filming[edit]

The film is dedicated to Will Gaffney, David Morse's stand-in who was killed on-set when a truck he was in went over a cliff. Morse was away at the time because of a family illness.[6]

Home media[edit]

The film was released on DVD on June 19, 2001.[7][8]


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."[9]

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.[10]

Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes gives the film an approval rating of 39% based on 117 reviews; the average rating is 5.3/10. The consensus is: "Despite its promising premise and superstar cast, Proof of Life is just a routine thriller that doesn't offer anything new."[11]


The film was nominated for four Blockbuster Entertainment Awards; Favorite Actor – Suspense, Favorite Actress - Suspense, Favorite Supporting Actor – 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. ^ a b c "Proof of Life". The Numbers. Retrieved November 23, 2007.
  2. ^ Prochnau, William (May 1998). "Adventures in the Ransom Trade". Vanity Fair (453): 134–144. ISSN 0733-8899.
  3. ^ Prochnau, William. "Adventures in the ransom trade" at Mmegi Online
  4. ^ "Long March to Freedom: The True Story of a Colombian Kidnapping". Project MUSE. Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved October 5, 2020.
  5. ^ Prochnau, William (December 2000). "Jungle Fever". Premiere Magazine.
  6. ^ Noel Murray (June 23, 2008). "David Morse (interview)". The A.V. Club.
  7. ^ Tribbey, Ralph (April 12, 2001). "DVD NEWS BRIEFS: Rhino Bows 'Swope'; 'Proof of Life' DVD; 'Jungle Girl' Found; Kino's 'Richard III'". Archived from the original on April 21, 2001. Retrieved September 1, 2019.
  8. ^ "Warner's 'Proof of Life,' 'The Pledge' Bring Suspense to VHS/DVD June 19". April 20, 2001. Archived from the original on June 19, 2001. Retrieved September 8, 2019.
  9. ^ Holden, Stephen (December 8, 2000). "Where Cynicism Rules, Integrity Can Be Heroic". The New York Times.
  10. ^ Ansen, David (December 11, 2000). "Hostage Heat". Newsweek. Retrieved December 1, 2012.
  11. ^ "Proof of Life". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved December 1, 2012.

External links[edit]