Ransom Movie Review

Movie Review by Anthony Leong © Copyright 1997

In this Ron Howard-directed thriller, based on the 1956 Glenn Ford movie of the same name, Mel Gibson plays Tom Mullen, a self-made millionaire that put together his own airline. He has a beautiful wife, Katherine (Rene Russo) and a son Sean (Brawley Nolte). Unfortunately, he also has a tragic flaw: solving his problems by throwing money at them (Tom paid a bribe to avert a strike at his airline, which landed the head of the union in jail). It is this flaw that is preyed upon when Sean is kidnapped.

Why... why me?
Why you? Because you buy your way out of trouble.

After Sean is abducted from Central Park, Tom receives an e-mail from the kidnappers, demanding a ransom of two million dollars. Agent Hawkins of the FBI (Delroy Lindo, last seen in "Get Shorty") and his anti-kidnapping team arrive to assist. Tom follows the kidnapper's instructions, but when the pick-up guy pulls a gun on Tom, the FBI agents appear out of the woodwork and shoot him. With the strong belief that his son is going to die because of this botched operation (which perpetuates the distrust of government agencies that pervades popular culture these days), Tom marches into a television station. As the television cameras pan across the two million dollars in bundled in neat little stacks, he tells the audience that the kidnapper will never see this ransom, because it is now the bounty on the kidnapper's head-- an unexpected reversal that is indicative of the intelligent plotting of this movie.

You paid off to save your airline... why won't you pay off to save your son?

From this point, the cat-and-mouse game unravels, as the steely nerves of the ringleader of the kidnappers, Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise, who is sinister in this role, an about face from his previous warm-and-fuzzy roles), collide with those of Tom. A psychological trap of competitive escalation ensues, as each side attempts to up the ante on each other to bring about a resolution. And as the stakes of the game get higher and higher, the characters begin to unravel. Divisions begin to appear between the kidnappers and also between Tom and Katherine. Though the deteriorating relationship between Tom and Katherine is portrayed sharply, the dynamics between the kidnappers are merely glossed over, despite the dramatic potential of the relationships between Jimmy and girlfriend Maris, (Lili Taylor, last seen in indie features such as "Girls Town" and "I Shot Andy Warhol") and the kidnapper with the heart of gold, Cubby (Donny Wahlberg!). When the kidnappers finally turn on one another, the intensity of the scene is somewhat flattened by the lack of backstory on these intriguing characters.

You're a payer. You did it once, and now you're gonna do it again.

The cinematographer is Piotr Sobocinski, who worked on the Krysztof Kieslowski masterpiece "Three Colors: Red". In contrast to the rich textured scenes of that foreign film, Sobocinski uses dramatic camera work to convey the sense of devastation felt by the Mullens, with rapid dolly-ins and rotating shots. The editing is also top-notch, keeping the suspense-laden story moving at a steady clip.

If you didn't get a chance to see this in the theaters last year, it is now on video. Highly recommended.

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