Every once in a while there comes a "can't miss" project that, once
it hits the screen, falls flat on its face. Ransom isn't one of them. The
involvement of director Ron Howard and stars Mel Gibson and Rene Russo add
up to a powerful, riveting thriller that engrosses from beginning to end.
Touchstone has advised the press to keep the lid on some plot points
(one of which, I think, is fairly obvious), so I will be as succinct as
possible. Gibson and Russo play Tom and Kate Mullen, he a successful
airline magnate, she his glamorous wife. They have it all--a penthouse in
New York, money up to their ears, and a young son, Sean (Brawley Nolte, son
of Nick)... Alas, things fall apart when Sean is kidnapped and held for $2
million ransom, which Tom eventually refuses to pay and instead offers as a
bounty on the head of the kidnapper, much to the dismay of Kate and an FBI
agent (Delroy Lindo) dealing with the case.
It is always a disappointment when the filmmakers have a good thing
going then botch things up through carelessness. While the makers of Ransom
don't botch the film, carelessness does lead to the film's two major
gaffes--the clear presence of boom microphones in two different scenes.
This is especially a shame, since both boom cameos take place during some
key dramatic moments; in one, the drama and passion of a Gibson monologue is
severely undermined by the boom. Instead of listening intently to the
speech and paying attention to the story, the audience at the press
screening could not help but roar with laughter.
Unwanted booms aside, Ransom is first-rate entertainment. Richard
Price and Alexander Ignon's smart script wisely does not make Tom into a
hero of impossible goodness; in fact, Tom is more than a little
unsympathetic and morally ambiguous. His virtue--and sanity--is naturally
called into question when he offers the ransom as a bounty, but his values
are even more questionable when we learn that he paid a bribe to save his
airline... yet won't pay for the safe return of his son. Gibson, in a fine
performance, does not sugarcoat anything and creates a complex, difficult
character. We see and feel his genuine love and concern for his son and can
understand his desperation, but one cannot help but think that he's going
about the whole thing wrong, that maybe he's lost his mind. What's more,
he's not exactly sure that he's sane, either.
Howard garnered many an accolade for his directing chores on Apollo
13, but I feel his work here is just as accomplished, if not more. He
mostly shoots the film matter-of-factly, free of flashy edits, and this
restraint helps build the tension more naturally and makes the emotions feel
more real. Howard's most notable achievement is with his cast, who all turn
in solid work. In addition to Gibson, Russo also impresses, having more
than her share of standout moments. Her role could easily be branded as
thankless, but here she's given an opportunity to show more of her acting
chops than ever before, painfully conveying the grief and anguish over her
child's disappearance and her husband's questionable actions. Lindo has
perhaps the most thankless role as the stock fed, but he still makes a
lasting impression, and Gary Sinise is ideally tough and smart as an NYPD
detective who gets involved in the case.
"Someone has to pay," reads the tagline for Ransom. After seeing
this smart and, yes, thrilling thriller, it is no mystery who that
"someone" is--the moviegoing audience, who is sure to pay some major bucks
to see this surefire box-office winner.