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movie reviewmovie reviewvideo review out of 4 Movie Review: Ransom

Starring: Mel Gibson, Rene Russo
Director: Ron Howard
Rated: R
RunTime: 120 Minutes
Release Date: November 1996
Genres: Drama, Suspense

*Also starring: Richard Price, Brawley Nolte, Dan Hedaya, Donnie Wahlberg, Evan Handler, Jose Zuniga, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo

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Review by Steve Rhodes
3½ stars out of 4

Kidnapping is the fear of every parent. Nothing strikes terror as the thought that one minute your kid may be there, and the next he has disappeared forever into a nameless crowd. Consummate and always reliable director Ron Howard (SPLASH, COCOON, PARENTHOOD, BACKDRAFT, THE PAPER, and APOLLO 13) displays the skill of a Hitchcock in crafting his thriller RANSOM.

Let me cut to chase. RANSOM really delivers the goods. It is an engrossing picture that sweeps the audience into its vortex. I predict that audiences will love the show, and the film will easily earn a King's ransom for Touchstone Pictures.

High on the list of what makes any picture a success is the script. Based on a story by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum and on a 1956 Glenn Ford movie of the same name, Alexander Ignon and Richard Price's script is highly intelligent and is always one step ahead of the viewers.

Kidnapping stories have a canonical, linear structure. First the victim is kidnapped, then the ransom is negotiated, and finally there is the payoff. RANSOM follows a much more unusual organization. Although the trailers and almost every review gives away one of the key twists, I will not. Suffice it to say that you should expect the unexpected. In a mark of confident writers, they are even willing to set up blind alleys just to keep you on your toes.

Wealthy and confident entrepreneur Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) has build his airline from a single plane into a billion dollar empire. He is on the cover of BusinessWeek as "Mr. Risk." As his wife Kate (Rene Russo) puts it, "He's so shy. Next month he's doing the underwear billboard in Times Square." This is another beauty of the script. Thrillers require carefully applied humor to relieve some of the tension.

One gorgeous day, the Mullen family goes to Central Park for a science fair. Their only child Sean (Brawley Nolte from MOTHER NIGHT) is playing with a video camera attached to a balloon. Since he is about ten, his parents do not watch him every second. As his camera goes up, he is kidnapped.

As they do throughout the film, the acting of panic and fear by Gibson and Russo is genuine and touching. They earn and keep the audience's empathy. Nick Nolte's son Brawley has a lot to learn and his is the only weak performance in the show. Not a bad one certainly, and since he has only a small part, it makes little difference.

The kidnappers, including Evan Handler (NATURAL BORN KILLERS) as Miles, Donnie Wahlberg as Cubby, Liev Schreiber (DENISE CALLS UP) as Clark, and Lili Taylor (GIRLSTOWN and I SHOT ANDY WARHOL) as Maris, are a techno-savvy group. The first note is sent via Email and is complete with chilling pictures of their son bound and gagged. They give Tom 48 hours to come up with a two million dollar ransom or they will kill Sean. They warn Tom not to tell anyone.

Tom calls the FBI and soon kidnapping expert Agent Hawkins (Delroy Lindo from GET SHORTY and BROKEN ARROW) and his team arrives incognito to the Mullen's apartment. Foiling the crooks is tougher than expected since they scramble their messages and block the phone traces. Lindo gives a compelling performance. On the phone to his wife, Hawkins confesses, "I am so glad we are not rich. You have to thank god for what we have." Yes, the rich do live in their penthouses, but with wealth comes vulnerability.

Tom is perplexed by it all. Since he is worth so much more, he wonders why they only want two million. What does this mean? In a further complication, he is rumored to have paid off union boss Jackie Brown (Dan Hedaya) to avoid a costly airline strike. The payoff put only Brown in prison, and Tom tells Hawkins that he thinks Brown may have some part in the kidnapping.

All along the way, the score by Academy Award nominated composer James Horner (APOLLO 13 and BRAVEHEART) adds to the building tension without ever overpowering it. Similarly the images by Academy Award nominated cinematographer Piotr Sobocinski (RED) provide maximum impact without any cute tricks. Only his highly effective slow motion, back and white ending sequence is out of the ordinary.

"These cuffs are a little tight," says a small time crook. Local cop Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise) tells him, "that's 'cause they're new. They'll stretch. You give 'em a little time." Jimmy, you see, works the beat near where the kidnappers have taken Sean into hiding. In this ensemble cast, Sinise and Gibson stand out as the best of the best.

As the terror of the situation sinks in on the Mullens, their marriage begins to strain. To extricate himself from the family squabbles, Agent Hawkins tells them, "I'm not a marriage counselor. I'm here to get your boy back." In the best piece of acting in the show, Gibson finally goes totally to pieces on their balcony. Tom's devastation is complete at this point.

"Shouldn't be a problem," tells the kidnapper to Tom. He reassures Tom at the same time he is lecturing him on the haves and have-nots in society with references to the movie THE TIME MACHINE. Most films today would have overplayed this Robin Hood metaphor, but not Ron Howard's. His taste and timing are excellent.

After an exciting and frightening adventure, the film finally starts drawing to a close. Just when you think all of the kidnappers have painted themselves in a corner, you are surprised and surprised again. When the credits start to roll, you turn to the person with you and go "wow!"

RANSOM runs 2:01. It is rated R for bloody violence and some bad language. There is no sex or nudity. It would probably be fine for most teenagers since the gore is reasonably contained, and the picture is superbly crafted. I strongly recommend the show to you and give the film *** 1/2. (This happens to be a picture to which I was not invited to the press screening. Too bad since this is the first one I am aware of with the press kit on a CD-ROM complete with video clips.)

Copyright 1996 Steve Rhodes

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