et's face it. A lot of people who go to see the kidnapping thriller Proof of Life will be going to bear witness to one thing and one thing alone -- to see if they can spot the Meg Ryan/Russell Crowe romance blossoming onscreen.

  Unless you've been living under a rock, you're fully aware that this film has been tied to the Quaid/ Ryan/Crowe triangle since news of it first appeared in the press earlier this year. When word that Ryan and Crowe were spending lots of free time together reached the rest of the world, speculation flourished, which was soon followed by divorce papers being exchanged between Ryan and Quaid. Suddenly, it was one of the biggest celebrity gossip stories of the summer.

  But perhaps we should get back to the movie. Crowe is Terry Thorne, a weary Australian hostage negotiator who specializes in retrieving kidnapped executives. While he seems ready to throw in the towel, he finds it difficult not to care in his line of work.

  Cut to Peter Bowman (The Green Mile's David Morse), an
Meg Ryan
Russell Crowe
David Caruso
David Morse

Taylor Hackford


This is the first time Crowe will use his natural Australian
accent in an American production. He also trained with a five-time karate world champion from Melbourne to prepare for the role.

American engineer heading a dam-building project in war-torn Telacca, and his free-spirited wife Alice (Ryan). As luck would have it, Peter is kidnapped by anti-government forces, who demand a cool $6 million for his return.

  With his employer unable to cough up the funds, Alice hires a reluctant Terry and his cohort Dino (NYPD Blue's David Caruso) to save the day. With life imitating art, Terry instantly falls for Alice. As they begin an affair, Alice finds herself having to choose between her husband and the man she hired to save him.

  Shot in Ecuador for three and a half months, the cast and crew also encountered lines of reality blurring with fantasy with some of the dangers faced by a real-life hostage. With a coup having just taken place, the filmmakers received military protection due to fears of Colombian guerrillas attempting to cross the border.

  "It got pretty tense," Morse said, and "there was a lot of criminal activity along the coast and the Indians involved in the coup gave the country until July to straighten things out. We got out just before the deadline."

  Based on an 1998 Vanity Fair article, the role of Alice was written specifically for Ryan, who received her biggest paycheque to date for the part - $15 million. Though the studio wanted Mel Gibson or Harrison Ford for the male lead, director Taylor Hackford (The Devil's Advocate) lobbied for Crowe. While Ryan has been quoted as saying she felt out of her league working with him, she said she wanted to act with Crowe, and his agent called to say he loved the part. The deal was sealed.

  But back to the romance. The studio is now faced with the task of promoting a film whose central relationship morphed into a scandal of global proportions. But Hackford has admitted that the affair has given the film some good free publicity.

  "I would like Proof of Life to be seen and judged on the film, not on some relationship thing," said Hackford. "On the other hand, name identification of Proof of Life is rather strong at the moment. And that is a great help."

  One thing's for sure. Public curiosity and private chemistry will definitely inject some life into Proof at the box office.

- Lesa Hannah