WB puts Hackford’s ‘Life’ on fast track

Ryan, Ford wanted for Gilroy-penned pic

Warner Bros. is fast-tracking the hostage drama “Proof of Life” for a Christmas 2000 release and has tapped Taylor Hackford to direct.

The script, penned by Tony Gilroy, reportedly went out to Meg Ryan and Harrison Ford late last week. Russell Crowe’s name has also been mentioned as a possibility for the male lead.

Ryan is reportedly skedded to meet with Hackford as early as Thursday.

Hackford, who most recently directed the Al Pacino/Keanu Reeves supernatural thriller “The Devil’s Advocate” for the studio, has been developing the project at Castle Rock with longtime collaborator Gilroy, who penned both “Advocate” and Hackford’s thriller “Dolores Claiborne.”

Sources said WB is trying to snag the cast in time for a fall ’99 shoot to make the projected release date for Christmas 2000.

WB is so confident that either of the A-list thesps will bite that some key physical production departments are already up and running: Production designer Bruno Rubeo is scouting locations in places as climatically diverse as Venezuela, London and Eastern Europe.

Story is described by insiders as a “Casablanca”-type romantic drama set in Latin America against the rapidly booming practice of hostage-taking: A male negotiator wings to Colombia to free a captured U.S. corporate executive but is compromised when he falls for the hostage’s wife.

In recent years, three U.S. relief workers have been held by leftist guerillas for more than five years in the Colombian jungle as the rebels’ most reliable means of raising money for the anti-government faction Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (F.A.R.C.) The organization has kidnapped 81 Americans since 1980, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo. Sources have reported that the WB’s Christmas slot next year was pretty lean and in need of this kind of big-name tentpole picture. Since incoming WB prexy-COO Alan Horn comes to the studio from Castle Rock, this fast ramping-up from their development list seems to forecast a sunnier outlook for other projects from that Warners-owned outfit.

WB reps declined comment.