Wednesday, January 20, 2016

RANSOM (1996)

(November 1996, U.S.)

The last time I watched Ron Howard's RANSOM (a loose remake of a 1956 film of the same name) would have likely been when I originally bought the DVD about ten years ago or more...and I was not a father yet. Now my own son is the same age as Mel Gibson's son in the film and the idea of watching a terrifying story of a kidnapped child and the frantic parents who try to get him back left me quite uneasy, to say the least. Truth be told, I put off watching the film longer than I should have because I couldn't sum up the emotional courage to put myself through such a story. Well, I can happily say I finally bucked up and, honestly, it wasn't as bad as all that, though there were some painful moments when I thought my eyes would well up. Hey, you fathers out there know what the hell I'm talking about!

So now let's take a trip back in time to when Mel Gibson was still a credible screen actor who hadn't yet begun shooting off his big mouth and gotten himself into a whole lotta hot water with the media. Action hero aside, Mel has proven (more than once) that he can play a solid father figure with all the emotional drama that goes with such a role. As multi-millionaire Tom Mullen, he has all the wealth, privilege and personal safety one could hope for...or so it would seem. Tom also has secrets that include corruption and bribery. His public reputation for payoffs are what ultimately inspire a group of kidnappers to take and hold his son for a two million dollar ransom. From here on, the film follows what one would consider to be the basic formula for any sort of kidnapping crime drama; the FBI, the monitored phone calls, the scrambled traces, ransom delivery instructions and even a botched attempt at making the transaction go smoothly and without incident. What RANSOM delivers that we were not expecting is first, the early revelation that the mastermind behind the kidnapping is also a New York City detective, Jimmy Shaker (played by Gary Sinise), whom, in a serious moment while tailing Tom by car through the streets of New York City, compares his actions and his feelings to the Eloi and the Morlocks in George Pal's THE TIME MACHINE (1960), in which the evil underground dwellers (like Skaker) occasionally riser from the depths and snatch a member of the privileged (like Mullen). Not that that could ever justify kidnapping a child, but you almost believe Shaker's genuine reasoning for committing this crime (almost). Second, and this is hardly a surprise if you've already seen the trailer for this film, is the new plan of action of Tom's that completely turn the tables on the one who took his son by going on television and announcing that the two million dollars that would have been used for the ransom payment has now become a bounty for the kidnapper, dead or alive. Now the only way the kidnappers will save themselves is to return his son unharmed, in which case he'll withdraw the bounty and drop all charges. You can almost feel the tension of this scene, particularly when you're staring at all that cash on the table in front of Gibson...

From this point, the viewer will suddenly find themselves asking the question of what they would do. As a loving parent, one would die and kill for their child. And yet there's that ugly, vengeful side of us that would bring the reign of Hell down on those who would dare to hurt our children (just last summer I found myself shouting uncontrollably at my next door neighbors for indirectly harassing my son - I just snapped!). Right or wrong, I can't help but practically stand up and cheer when Gibson turns it all around and forces the kidnappers to fear him and what he can do to them. By the film's conclusion, Shaker realizes that he's going to lose and uses his position as a detective to kill his accomplices and make it appear as if he rescued Tom's son. And although the real climax of the film is still yet to come after that, I found myself rather satisfied with the uncanny sense of irony that the kidnapper, despite not getting his money, would actually get away with his actions by setting up an alternate scenario. Well, I suppose one's personal cinematic wants and desires can't compete with the formulaic rules of the traditional crime thriller.

Despite solid performances by a great supporting cast that include Rene Russo as Tom's wife (Gibson and Russo reunited after LETHAL WEAPON 3) and Delroy Lindo as the FBI agent working with them, this is a film truly carried by Gibson and Sinise as two men going head-to-head with each other as they each try to think their way out of a game being played with deadly stakes. RANSOM is a remake that outdoes the Glen Ford original in both performance and excitement...and how often can anyone claim that a remake is better than an original? Not too often.

Favorite line or dialogue:

Tom Mullen (on live TV): "The whole world now son, Sean Mullen, was kidnapped, for ransom, three days ago. This is a recent photograph of him. Sean, if you're watching, we love you. And this...well, this is what waits for the man that took him. This is your ransom. Two million dollars in unmarked bills, just like you wanted. But this is as close as you'll ever get to it. You'll never see one dollar of this money, because no ransom will ever be paid for my son. Not one dime, not one penny. Instead, I'm offering this money as a reward on your head. Dead or alive, it doesn't matter. So congratulations, you've just become a two million dollar lottery ticket...except the odds are much, much better. Do you know anyone that wouldn't turn you in for two million dollars? I don't think you do. I doubt it. So wherever you go and whatever you do, this money will be tracking you down for all time. And to ensure that it does, to keep interest alive, I'm running a full-page ad in every major newspaper every Sunday, for as long as it takes. But...and this is your last return my son, alive, uninjured, I'll withdraw the bounty. With any luck you can simply disappear. will never see this money. Not one dollar. So you still have a chance to do the right thing. If you don't, well, then, God be with you, because nobody else on this Earth will be."

Yeah!!! You go, Mel!!!

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