Screenplay : Richard Price and Alexander Ignon
MPAA Rating : R
Year of Release : 1996
Stars : Mel Gibson (Tom Mullen), Rene Russo (Kate Mullen), Gary Sinise (Jimmy Shaker), Delroy Lindo (Agent Lonnie Hawkins), Lili Taylor (Maris Conner), Liev Schreiber (Clark Barnes), Donnie Wahlberg (Cubby Barnes)
"Ransom" is a movie about a man pushed to extremes. It's about making desperate, life and death choices in a no-win situation. It's about gut feelings and taking chances and playing danger on the edge. The movie is often uncomfortably claustrophobic because the central character, Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson). is faced with decisions no man should have to make.
With a sort of ruthless intensity offset with slick Hollywood polish, director Ron Howard ("Apollo 13," "Backdraft") has essentially fashioned a drama-thriller exploring all parents' worst nightmare -- having their child taken from right under their noses. The fact that the kidnapers are demanding money is of little consequence. The amount is $2 million, but to an airline business tycoon like Gibson's character, it's just a drop in the bucket.
The real problem is that his family is being torn apart. His boy is handcuffed to a bed in a dark room with electric tape over his eyes and mouth, while his wife, Kate (Rene Russo), slowly becomes more and more frantic as she feels the inevitable loss of control. Her husband slowly pushes her out of the situation as it becomes a battle of wills between him and the kidnappers, and she is left in a mostly thankless role.
The kidnappers themselves are a motley crew assembled by cop-gone-bad Jimmy Shakes (Gary Sinise). Unfortunately for the movie, the kidnappers are never quite as believable as they should be. Sinise knows what he's doing, but the rest of the group is an assortment of conflicting ideas and questions about just what their intentions are.
It's as if screenwriters Richard Price and Alexander Ignon weren't sure what they wanted the kidnapers to be, so they gave us a greatest hits collection including a nervous girlfriend (Lili Taylor), an alcoholic computer hacker (Liev Schreiber), and the one guy who starts having ethical dilemmas about his role in the plan (Donnie Wahlberg).They're stock characters and they look like street punks, not the kind of slick, high tech criminals needed to pull off this kind of complex scheme, and the result is a bit unconvincing.
The infighting among the kidnapers perfectly mirrors the infighting in Gibson's penthouse apartment where an FBI kidnap expert (Delroy Lindo) is telling Gibson to play the odds, while Gibson is more and more sure that his son is going to die anyway, so he might as well take some risks. These scenes build true tension because the conflicts seem plausible, while the scenes in the kidnapers' basement lair fall mostly flat because they feel forced and contrived.
The movie really picks up steam when Gibson, torn from his sheltered life by the situation at hand, reaches past his good dad exterior, and finds the animal within. It's like a shedding of inhibitions, and there are extraordinary scenes where Mel Gibson burns with the same fiery intensity he exuded so well in the original "Lethal Weapon" and "Braveheart." He fits in the shoes of a successful, family-oriented businessman, but at the same time, he can strike a vein of underlying violence and rage that explodes on the screen with gripping intensity.
The movie unearths some of Gibson's previous undercover business dealings that suggest he buys his way out of bad circumstances, and the irony is that he may have caused this whole situation himself. It doesn't come off quite as well as it should, but it gives an added dimension to his actions that would otherwise seem ridiculously insane.
You can't help but think that when he goes on national television and turns the ransom money into a bounty on the kidnapers, he's being driven by inner guilt, knowing this might all be his fault. Sinise even tells Gibson he was picked because he knows he buys his way out of problems, so he knows he'll do it again. This gives Gibson the feeling that he brought this on his own family, and he feels the duty to resolve it, come hell or high water.
The movie generates real tension as Gibson and Sinise play a sort of cat and mouse game, continually upping the stakes. On one hand you want to salute Gibson for shaking off the meager role of victim and trying to force the kidnapers at their own game, but at the same time, you realize what he's doing puts his son in more and more danger. This central conflict underlies "Ransom," making it feel edgy and off-balance at times, but still engrossing and exciting.
Reprinted with permission The Baylor Lariat