Saturday, September 19, 2015

Zaki's Original Review: Ransom

First published November 27, 1996

Mel Gibson show us the money, with a picture of his son (Brawley Nolte) in the background
Note: This is one of my earliest reviews, written for my high school paper, The North Current, and as such it's one of the more cringe-inducing pieces in my archives. First of all, I give away way too much of the plot in the summary, and second, my analysis is, well, frankly a bit pedantic. That said, I don't disagree with my ultimate conclusion, that Ransom is a damn fine film, I just have issues with how I ended up there. Whaddya do. Also, given his career-killing shenanigans in recent years, the first sentence does take on an extra, unintended layer of irony when read now. 

Mel Gibson has always been one of Hollywood's most dependable actors. Even when the movie in which he's appearing is less than stellar, Gibson can always be counted on to deliver a solid performance. One need only look at otherwise forgettable fare like Bird on a Wire or The Man Without a Face to realize this.

Gibson's latest effort, Ransom, serves as a showcase for this uniquely talented actor's abilities. Directed by Ron Howard (one of our most underrated filmmakers) from a script by Richard Pryce and Alexander Ignon, Ransom is one of the best thrillers to hit theaters in a long time. Not only does Gibson deliver one of his best performances ever, but co-stars Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, and Delroy Lindo all carry their weight.

Based on the 1956 film of the same name, Ransom has Gibson playing Tom Mullen. A wealthy business tycoon who founded what is now America's fourth-largest airline, Mullen appears to have the perfect life. This illusion is shattered when his son vanishes at a family outing. Soon, Mullen receives an e-mail containing images of his son tied up and gagged, with the kidnappers demanding $2 million within two days.

It is soon revealed that the head kidnapper is Sinise's cop character, Jimmy Shaker (don't worry, I didn't spoil the movie, it's made pretty clear right from the start), and he gives Mullen elaborate instructions as to how to deliver the ransom (in an electronically altered voice). When the drop is botched due to federal interference, Mullen assumes that his son is dead or soon will be.

Now the stakes are raised even higher, as Tom goes on TV and withdraws the ransom, instead offering it as a bounty on the kidnapper's head, regardless of whether or not his son is alive. Though his decision is sharply criticized by everyone from the general public to his wife Kate (Russo) and FBI agent Lonnie Hawkins (Lindo), Mullen sticks with his decision, leading to a super-charged confrontation with Shaker at the climax.

While it would have been far easier to dwell on the film's central "child in peril" gimmick, milking its melodrama unmercifully, the filmmakers instead chose to focus on the internal strife undergone by Gibson's character. Gibson is completely believable as Mullen, perfectly capturing the emotional turns required by the role. One of the film's best moments has to be when, after keeping his cool for most of the movie, he finally explodes on the phone with the kidnapper, yelling "Give me back my son!"

Ron Howard has come a long way from his roots as Opie, and after not even being considered as Best Director at the Oscars for last year's Apollo 13, maybe Ransom will finally allow him to get his hands on that elusive golden statuette. Ransom represents the rare breed of Hollywood thriller, combining crackerjack thrills with an intelligent, plausible, and dramatic script. A

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