It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Kidnapping is not a rare crime but a lucrative line of business in the Third World, according to "Proof of Life," a movie that is best when it sticks closest to the trade craft of a professional K&R man named Terry Thorne. K&R means "kidnap and ransom," we learn, and the specialty has grown along with the crime; somewhere in the world, businessmen are being snatched on an almost daily basis, making lots of work for Terry (Russell Crowe), who masterminds a helicopter snatch of a hostage in the opening sequence and makes his getaway clinging to the landing skips of the chopper.
Cut to Tecala, a fictional Latin American country where drugs are a major crop and a revolutionary movement has morphed into a professional kidnapping operation. We meet Peter and Alice Bowman (David Morse, Meg Ryan), an American couple going through a bad patch in their marriage, who are living in the country while Peter builds a dam. He thinks the dam will help the locals grow crops. She thinks it's window dressing for the oil company that employs him. They're hardly speaking to each other when she gets word he's been kidnapped.
Enter Terry Thorne, whose job is to negotiate the lowest possible ransom price and rescue the hostage. Exit Terry Thorne, when it's revealed that Bowman's employer didn't pay the premium on his K&R policy. Re-enter Terry Thorne, who returns to Tecala because something about Alice Bowman, some quiet unstated appeal with sexual undertones, has brought him back. He will risk his life for free, for the husband of the woman he doesn't know for sure he loves, although he has a strong hunch.
The movie, directed by Taylor Hackford, cuts between Thorne's K&R craft, Alice's guilt and emotional confusion, and the ordeal in the jungle by Peter, played by Morse as a hothead who talks back to the guys carrying the machineguns--not always prudent. Complications enter with Alice's sister-in-law (Pamela Reed); a fellow prisoner of Peter's (Gottfried John), who poses as a crazy missionary, and Thorne's old fighting partner Dino (David Crusoe), who is in the country trying to rescue another kidnap victim.