Touchstone Pictures // 1996 // 121 Minutes // Rated R
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // July 12th, 2012
Someone is going to pay.
Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson, Braveheart) is a self-made airline mogul with a loving wife (Rene Russo, The Thomas Crown Affair), and an adorable young son (Brawley Nolte, son of Nick). Tom's seemingly perfect world is turned upside down when his son is kidnapped by a group of thugs attempting to extract two million dollars in exchange for the safety of Sean. At first, Tom takes all the necessary precautions, including involving the authorities, led by Agent Lonnie Hawkins (Delroy Lindo, Get Shorty). As the clock starts ticking down and Tom realizes his son's safety isn't guaranteed, Tom decides to take matters into his own hands, pushing himself to near superhuman feats to get back the most important thing in his world.
What comes to mind when I write that name? Mad Max? Racist? Lethal Weapon? Unhinged whack-job? Over the past two decades, Mel Gibson has carved out a special place for himself in entertainment history as a dashing appealing leading man and a rather flawed human whose demons have bubbled to the surface more times than he'd care to admit. After Gibson's drunken anti-Semitic rants and abusive phone messages to his ex-girlfriend, many fans counted him out. Personally, I still like the guy. Even though he's said and done some pretty reprehensible things, I still find Gibson's onscreen persona to be electrifyingly intense.
With Ransom, a film loosely based on the 1956 Glenn Ford movie of the same name, Gibson was at the top of his game. You'd think all the pieces would be in place for a home run, and you'd be almost right. This is a by-the-books kidnap thriller that, while good, never does much except jump through the required genre hoops. The movie reads like a checklist of obvious clichés: super-rich, loving but flawed father? Check. Doting, beautiful wife? Check. Precocious little kid whose life hangs in the balance? Double check. Group of kidnappers run by an inside man? Triple check. Helicopters, tables of FBI workers huddled around telephones, climactic final shoot out? Check, check, aaaaaaaand check.
Director Ron Howard (A Beautiful Mind) is a man of considerable talent, although truth be told I've never been a big fan of his work -- Backdraft being his strongest effort, and even that hasn't aged particularly well. With Ransom, Howard brings a steady hand to the material, but it's never given a very distinctive style. At times, this feels like it could easily be a well produced movie-of-the-week, with some above average acting talent. Everything runs like a well-oiled machine without much surprise or creativity. It's as if a committee sat down and said, "We want to make a movie about kidnapping. Don't deviate from the norm!"
The best thing about Ransom is Mel Gibson's no-frills performance. Gibson is nothing if not proficient at playing a man on the bare edge of sanity (insert your own big fat 'duh' here). His Tom Mullen is the kind of guy everyone can get behind, even when it's discovered he's got his own personal flaws (that come off as justifiable necessary evils). Gibson gives his all and makes the film worth watching. Rene Russo -- reuniting with Gibson after starring together in Lethal Weapon 3 -- matches Mel's intensity as his terrified but resilient wife. Howard smartly casts a bevy of character actors as the heavies, including Liev Schreiber (Scream), Donnie Wahlberg (Blue Bloods), Lili Taylor (Public Enemies), and the always entertaining Gary Sinise (a carryover from Howard's Apollo 13) as their ringleader. Everyone plays their parts with extreme professionalism, but little else.
I realize this sounds like I'm down on Ransom, but not really. As far as kidnapping movies go, you could do a lot worse than this 1996 effort. I should probably cut Howard some slack; after a million variations on this genre, I don't know what more he could have done to make this film unique or special. I enjoyed Ransom for what it is: light escapism on a random Friday night.
Presented in 1.85:1/1080p high definition widescreen, Disney's work on this Touchstone title is very good. The colors are vibrant and the image retains a nice filmic grain that never overpowers the viewing. The night scenes are dark but well rendered. For a film that's now fifteen years old, the DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio mix is full and often impressively aggressive. There are many instances of ambient surrounds and the action scenes pack a nice punch. Dialogue is crystal clear, as are the sound effects and James Horner's terse orchestral score. Also included is a Dolby 5.1 French track, a 2.0 Spanish track, as well as English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
This 15th anniversary edition of Ransom includes a rather low key and informative commentary track by director Ron Howard, four short deleted scenes, a couple of behind-the-scenes featurettes ("What Would You Do", "Between Takes"), and a theatrical trailer.
In the end, Ransom is only a slightly above average film which has been given the same treatment on a Blu-ray.
Not Guilty, if you're willing to pay the price.
Review content copyright © 2012 Patrick Naugle; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: Touchstone Pictures
* 1.85:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (Spanish)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 121 Minutes
Release Year: 1996
MPAA Rating: Rated R
* Deleted Scenes