“Glow.” Done. “House of Cards” and “Dear White People.” Done. I couldn’t get into any of the other new Netflix series, which seem to be produced at a blog-rate, so I scrolled through movies and saw “Proof of Life.” I remember believing that Russell Crowe reached his peak-hunk stage during this film and that he and Meg Ryan had great chemistry. Aside the very problematic racist depictions of the fictional Latin American country of “Tecala” (Peru? Colombia? Russell Crowe looking all buff, who cares?) and some macho violence (this is probably a bad movie…am I terrible?) it’s a beautiful triangulated love story.
So Peter Bowman and his wife Alice live in Tecala where Peter works to build a damn sponsored by an evil oil company. They have marital problems and she had a miscarriage in Africa, and she doesn’t want to have another baby in a third world country. (Boo! Third World Countries! USA has one of the highest infant mortality rate in the western world, and miscarriages happen anywhere…but Alice is an American.
Then Peter gets kidnapped! Enter Russell Crowe. He’s a hostage negotiator whose company works for the oil company. He see’s Meg Ryan, all broken up, adorable and skinny (she has puffy lips, but this was pre-extreme face work and she still looks like herself) and falls in love. But it turns out evil oil company didn’t have an insurance policy on kidnapping, so Terry bails and leaves poor Alice with the second rate degenerate Tecalan security guard who tries to run off with Alice and Peter’s 50K. Terry of course, feels guilty and returns to help Alice with guns and asks the guys to leave. LIKE A MAN. The women are screaming and crying, and it’s all pretty insulting, but still…Russell Crowe. Yes, he fulfills many unfair gender stereotypes; he’s tough, cool, and emotionally distant, but he also listens and has a job to do. Above all, he’s a soldier and he’s competent. Unlike the Tecalan thugs who can’t broker a deal IN THEIR OWN COUNTRY.
Over the following months, Russell Crowe lives with Meg Ryan and tries to negotiate for Peter’s release, who is living in a tent in the mountains with stoned Peruvians. This part is very problematic as Peter is a tall white engineer and the “Telacans” are short, impoverished, dark skinned and according to the filmmaker not too bright. Yet, we are meant to root for the tall white man. He has sympathy for the women, but he can outsmart these dumb thugs. Ok, so this was 2000, not sure why I should forgive it, but this is not a fair fight. He could show a little more compassion, understanding, historical resonance for a people who had their country raped and now have to resort to kidnapping. Or the movie could…but still: Russell Crowe.
Meanwhile, Terry and Alice build a soul-mate intimacy. It’s clear that they are in love, but this passion can never be consummated. Alice loves her husband and is a devoted wife, and Terry isn’t an immature needy idiot. He’s not a home-wrecker, even though there are no children or home to wreck. He could very easily write off Peter for dead and seduce the grieving wife. But he has honor. Meg Ryan and Russell Crowe did have an affair during the making of the film and their method acting paid off. Movie genre: HOT SEXUAL CHEMISTRY.
Peter and a co-prisoner try to escape, but Peter gets caught. The prisoner escapes but informs everyone that Peter is probably dead. A lesser man than Russell Crowe could have said, “Score!” and let it go. But his job is, in essence, to save the union that will break his heart. He’s no mopey, whiney Joseph Gordon Levitt character from “500 Days of Summer.” Soldiers can deal with broken hearts. UNFAIR GENDER STEREOTYPE…but still…Russell Crowe.
Russell Crowe and David Caruso go in on a special op reconnaissance mission with fatigues and face paint. But first….first…he and Meg Ryan have their moment. A night of passionate love making? No. Months of work to save the husband of the woman he loves and all he gets is one make-out session! But it’s enough. Why? Because he’s a fucking grown up!
He and David Caruso rescue Peter, kill a bunch of Tecalan thugs (again, these are poor, dark skinned people, so their live are not important). Peter shoots his captor and we should applaud?… Had he developed some compassion for the struggles of indigenous cultures in Latin America, this could have been a great movie…but alas, Hollywood…
Peter is brought back to Alice. He is grateful to Terry. But he knows something is up with his wife. You can’t leave your wife hanging out with a super buff soldier hostage negotiator for five months and just have her be all “See ya!” But it’s OK, because aside from not understanding anything outside of his white Western brain, Peter is an adult. He lets Alice and Terry say their final good-byes. He will have adorable Alice for the rest of his life. While the movie lacks any progressive ideas of gender, race, or the plight of the third world, it redeems itself with the emotional good will of what could be a messy love triangle. Great acting by Meg Ryan, whose presence on the screen I truly miss. Despite it all, I truly enjoyed it.
In Lindy West’s awesome book “Shrill” she says, “In a certain light, feminism is just the long, slow realization that the stuff you love hates you.” Damn, she’s so right.