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"Proof of Life" is known as the film that broke up Meg Ryan's long time marriage with actor husband Dennis Quaid. During filming it was reported that Meg fell in love with her co-star Gladiator's Russell Crowe. This controversy and negative publicity ultimately hurt the film's box office. To add insult to injury the director Taylor Hackford pushed the lions share of the blame onto Crowe and Ryan saying their blooming relationship hurt the films potential. While this may be partially true, I think the film was just released in an overcrowded marketplace. Now one of the holiday seasons most underrated and overlooked films comes to DVD.

Proof of Life: Special Edition
Terry Thorne (Russell Crowe) is a K&R representative for Lutheran Risk International. A large firm that specializes in insuring employees of various companies when they are situated in areas of the world that can be deemed hostile. As the film opens Terry is presenting his last case report to the board members in which he successfully overcame the Russian Military in order to rescue his target.

Meanwhile over in South America, American citizen and engineer Peter Bowman (David Morse) is working on his dream project. A water dam that is being built to stop flooding and to protect an oil pipeline that the company Peter is working is trying to build. However there is a problem, none of the supplies to build the dam have left the United States. Peter drags his wife Alice (Meg Ryan) to a party being thrown by the army where he needs to talk to the company bigwigs. However no one from the company shows up, other than a messenger who explains to Peter that the company is being bought out and that the new management doesn't care about the dam. The next day on the way to work a spiritual parade causes Peter to detour from his usual route and encounter a road block. Before he knows it men with ski-masks are attacking vehicles and kidnapping people. He pleads with the men to spare him and that he is of no worth to them but they take him anyway.

Terry is assigned to the case and explains to Alice that these things aren't pretty and are often very stressful but if she let's him do things his way then Peter will come home unharmed. Along the way Terry finds  help in the form of a colleague of his Dino (David Caruso - ex of NYPD Blue).

"Proof of Life" is told in an interesting manner as the film cuts between the two stories. Terry and Alice and the negotiations for Peter's return and the experiences Peter has while being held captive. However while this is an interesting approach it does hurt the film at times. Like Hackford's 1997 picture "The Devil's Advocate" the film seems rather long and could have used some tightening up in the editing booth. While sections of the film are fast paced others aren't which causes the last 45 minutes of the film to drag before reaching it's action packed conclusion.

The performances in the film are top-notch. Russell Crowe is excellent as a suave ex-military expert who knows his business well.  Meg Ryan turns in a performance more reminiscence of her earlier work as she brings a sincere and caring outlook to her character who is caught in a tough situation. She remains calm under pressure longer than anyone I've ever met. This movie is a step forward for Meg after such recent drivel as Hanging Up.  David Morse who up until now has been primarily a supporting actor is given a larger role here. Morse who previously had small roles in "The Green Mile" and "Contact" is really given his chance to shine here and he is excellent in this role. Here's another fine example of a quality actor you can get without having to pay the outrageous salary. A few more performances like this and Morse could very well be making a fair bit per picture.

While the film runs a tad long at 135 minutes and suffered from bad press resulting in a less than stellar box office take. It's a good picture that shouldn't be overlooked.

Proof of Life: Special Edition
Video
In the last 3 months, the quality of the transfers on new release DVDs has gone through the roof. The image is just getting closer and closer to perfection. The guys at the compression and authoring facilities are getting that good. I'm getting more and more worried that as time passes between viewings of some of my favorite discs, that when I do decide to rewatch them the image quality will be a let down.

Being such a recent release I was expecting another knock out transfer and Warner delivers here. "Proof of Life" is presented in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen that looks even better then the print I saw at the theater.  While no studio has achieved what I call the perfect transfer. All the attempts made in recent weeks have come pretty darn close.

Colors are sharp and well defined bringing the lushness of the forest and mountains to the forefront. The detail and depth of the transfer is really quite astonishing as at times I felt I was inside the Bowman's home.  

While the picture is beautiful it's not entirely problem free as some minor edge enhancement occurs during a few occasions. I wouldn't say this is a problem so much as a minor distraction that doesn't hurt the viewing experience. Instead it harms the disc's chance at a perfect video rating. Aside from the edge enhancement the picture is problem free. Another stellar transfer falling just short of perfection.

Audio
As expected from a new release from Warner Brothers, "Proof of Life" features a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix and what a mix it is. When Proof was released during the busy month of December it got stuck in one of the smaller auditoriums at the local multiplex and while all 18 feature digital sound the larger houses' sound far better then the smaller ones. However my recollection of the sound was that it was pretty impressive, even in the smaller house but it was nowhere near the level on this disc.

While this movie is not a non-stop all out action picture, it contains it's fair share of action sequences and they all sound outstanding on the disc. When the action sequences occur the audio opens up to place the viewer right in the middle of the action, something I haven't noticed in some more recent action mixes. Bass levels are low, dialogue is loud and clear, and the surrounds are used a fair bit for ambience in addition to their use during the action scenes.  
While this movie won't win any awards for audio it's a great presentation and far exceeded my expectations.

Also available is a Dolby Digital 5.1 mix in French. Note there are no 2.0 mixes provided for this disc.

Proof of Life: Special Edition
Extras
Warner Brothers has put out some excellent special editions in the past for movies such as Contact, "The Matrix" and "The Devils Advocate" (also directed by Taylor Hackford). They have also put some fairly basic releases for some of their newer titles like "Red Planet". While "Red Planet" did not make very much at the box office it's lack of features was somewhat interesting, as Warner had been releasing fairly packed discs of box office failures such as "The In Crowd and Gossip". Like "Red Planet", "Proof of Life" was a bit of a disappointment at the box office but instead of the bare bones treatment, it's being released as a SE but only in name as the disc doesn't contain very many special features. Still it's much better to have some extras than none at all.  Hopefully Warner Brothers will continue to add more special features to non-hits again in the future but for now this is a fairly decent start.

The big feature of the disc is the directors commentary with Taylor Hackford. Hackford, a veteran of numerous films including "An Officer and a Gentlemen" is providing his third audio commentary here.  Having listened to the commentary on "The Devil's Advocate" when I was still a newcomer to the DVD format and being frustrated with the boring narration style of that track, I wasn't expecting too much going into this disc. While Hackford is an excellent director I don't care for his manner of speaking or discussing his films. He is a dry speaker and spends most of the time recapping the events that are happening on the screen. When an interesting tidbit about the production is mentioned it nearly gets lost in the mix. I'm not saying this is a bad commentary just that it requires a lot of patience on the part of the viewer.

Continuing on we have the 14 minute HBO First Look special "The Making of Proof of Life" which is primarily a promotional piece hosted by EX-NYPD Blue star and Proof of Life co-star David Caruso. The piece has a slightly slanted way of viewing the movie in that it presents the movie as an all-out action blockbuster which is not entirely true.

Wrapping up the disc we have the Theatrical Trailer in anamorphic widescreen and Dolby Digital 2.0 sound. Also included are Warner's standard issue Cast and Crew biographies.

Overall
Overall a fairly decent set of extras for the price but I can't help feel like the disc truly isn't a special edition. As the term special edition gets used more and more on discs with just a couple of extra features, it begins to become more and more meaningless. Warner who at the dawn of the DVD era gave us truly special editions of movies like Contact with 3 commentaries and "making of" featurettes seems to have lost sight of what makes a truly special edition. Studios such as Paramount who released "Save the Last Dance" as a non SE with more features than this have the right idea now.  In this day and age a commentary and a making of feature are pretty standard issue and as such it's becoming harder and harder for a disc with an average amount of extras such as Proof to gain a high rating in the extra category. Even so Warner gains points just for not repeating the disappointment of Red Planet.

"Proof of Life" wasn't given a fair shot at the box office and is another example of how bad press can slant people opinions. Everyone I know who has seen Proof has liked it. It's truly an under rated little picture and well worth a look on DVD.


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