|Ransom (Special Edition)|
|Written by Mel Odom|
|Tuesday, 23 March 2004|
One of every parent’s greatest fears is that his or her child will be abducted. The news constantly carries stories about children taken by non-custodial parents. The faces of missing kids appear on milk cartons and in post offices and major retail stores like Old West bounty papers. Some people may feel that the missing children issue has reached epidemic proportions. Mostly, however, these children were taken by family members or someone close to them who mean the child no harm. But some of them go missing, abducted by strangers for sexual or murderous intent. Children are kidnapped for ransom relatively rarely, but history is filled with such occurrences.
Director Ron Howard serves up a deliciously woven tale of intrigue, plot and counterplot in Ransom. He guides Mel Gibson, Rene Russo and the rest of his cast to splendid suspense and reverses. Delroy Lindo and Gary Sinise play their parts to the hilt and enhance the story with all the intensity they bring in their respective roles.
Chapter 1 opens up with a screaming ambulance weaving its way through packed city streets. The sound echoes eerily through the surround sound system. Moving swiftly, the story immediately goes to a commercial successful airline mogul Tom Mullen (Gibson) has made to advertise his thriving business. Viewers are treated to a quick but complete picture of Tom and Kate Mullen (Russo) and their nine-year old son Sean (Brawley Nolte). The scenes at the Mullen home exude sensitivity and honest emotion, and Gibson really soars as a father, a role he’s well-known for in his real life. Inside the home, the crowd noises from the party roll all around the viewer, making us feel very much a part of the action.
With the sense of creeping and brutal menace, the story intercuts with scenes from the preparations the kidnappers are making to the small room to hold the kidnapped boy in. The sounds of power tools mark these scenes indelibly, as does the use of conflicting musical scores. The Mullen family scenes are underscored by classical music while the kidnappers’ scenes are fueled by hard, driving heavy metal.
During this onslaught of character introduction and suspense build-up, a problem crops up for Mullen with Jacky Brown, a union rep who tried to shut his fledgling airline down. That smear on Mullen’s good name will come back time and again to haunt him and his family. The charges were severe enough that Brown has ended up in prison for years and the FBI investigated Mullen and his family for years while trying to make a case against Tom.
The scenes of the father-son relationship are tremendous. Viewers get a great sense of what it must be like around the Gibson home on good days. However, the boy also tells his father that it seems like someone is always mad at him lately. The end of this chapter introduces Jimmy Shaker (Sinise), a police detective making an arrest at a convenience store.
Chapter 2 opens up with a street celebration. Kate Mullen is chairing the Junior Science Fair Contest. Tom talks to his son, who is upset over the fact that he didn’t even get to enter his project. Tom points out that having his mom chair the event then entering it wouldn’t have been fair. As the contestants launch their projects, the kidnappers close in like sharks circling for the kill, accompanied by hard driving heavy metal that lights up the subwoofer and circles through the surround sound system. Director Howard chooses not to show the actual physical capture of young Sean, and the absence of that scene makes the series of events even more shocking and sinister. Tom and Kate take notice of Sean’s disappearance almost at the same time. Tom searches for his son, and his search becomes the point-of-view of the camera. The camera sweeps get broader and more panicked as Tom realizes his son is nowhere to be found. The crowd noises press in on Tom and the viewer, rolling like steady thunder through the surround sound system, accompanied by rapid music that drives the anxiety levels through the roof. The image of Sean’s plane project sailing unguided through the bright blue sky is stark and unforgettable. The loud pop of the project’s balloon bursting against a rooftop, then the project’s sudden plummet to the hard street below ignites the subwoofer loud enough to make us jump out of our own skins.
The pitiful image of Sean with his eyes taped shut and handcuffed to an uncomfortable bed arrives in e-mail at the end of Chapter 2. Tom and Kate find out the ransom demand is for two million dollars. They’re told not to go to the police. Instead, Kate urges Tom to turn to the FBI because the agents there knew them from the Jacky Brown case. Tom concedes, and the FBI arrives immediately. Agent Hawkins (Lindo), the man Tom dealt with a lot during his prior investigation, takes point on the case. Throbbing music, kept low-key, underscores the FBI’s operation setting up. Hawkins informs the fearful parents that in seven cases out of ten, they get the child back. Gibson shines in depicting Tom’s worry and fear as a father. His emotions come off raw and palpable. A phone call, though not from the kidnappers as everyone expected, puts the chilling events into perspective when Tom asks Hawkins, “Is our son dead?”
The driving music at the open of Chapter 3 pulls us into young Sean’s predicament as he lies chained to a bed with his eyes taped. One of the kidnappers, Cubby (Donnie Wahlberg), starts taking care of Sean and obviously feels sorry for him. This sympathy, felt dramatically by the audience, evokes the frailty of the bond between the four kidnappers. Later in the chapter, Tom his admits guilt in setting up Jacky Brown and getting him convicted, saying he did it to protect his business and his family, showing that he will do whatever it takes to survive. The wind whistles through the surround sound around Tom, Hawkins and the viewer during this scene, making the us feel as though we are standing out there, overlooking the city as well. Tom goes on to point out that he feels Sean’s abduction is tied to Brown, the man he helped imprison. Hawkins gets Tom a face-to-face meeting with Brown, but it’s obvious Brown had nothing to do with the kidnapping.
The action shifts back to Detective Jimmy Shaker as he makes an arrest. He follows Cubby from a convenience store. Cars whip by around Shaker as he goes through the alley. Dog barks in the background lend the scene an authentic feel as they pour through the surround sound. Shaker sneaks into the apartment with his pistol in his fist, and the first of the twists that are to come kicks in.
Chapter 4 starts innocently with the rustle of paper as the Mullen house awaits the call from the kidnappers. Then the phone rings, startlingly loud in the surround sound system. Tom leads the pounding chase up the stairs that echoes through the subwoofer. Hawkins has a frantic conversation with Tom before Tom picks up the phone. The scenes skillfully intercut between the family and the kidnappers. The surround sound scatters the voices all around the viewer so that he or she feels like he or she is inside the rooms at both ends of the conversations.
In Chapter 5, Tom is led on a chase out to an abandoned area after a clever ruse to get him away from the FBI. The sequence is filled with explosions of gunfire and straining engine noises that rattle through the subwoofer. A police helicopter circles the drop site, and the rotor wash booms through the surround sound system all around the viewer. When the dust settles, Cubby, the kidnapper who was intending to help Sean escape, is dead.
Chapter 6 shows both sides freaking out with the news of the dead kidnapper. Tom and Kate don’t know what’s going to happen next, and Cubby’s brother Clark (Liev Schreiber) is out for revenge. The kidnappers are ready to cut their losses and run. Tom is more frantic than ever, but he’s starting to see the kidnapping as the transaction that it truly is. He argues with Hawkins and Kate that Sean is dead even if they do turn over the money. The kidnappers can’t afford to let Sean live with the danger that he might somehow identify them later. In Chapter 7, while mired in stalled traffic, Tom concocts the only scheme that he believes will see Sean safely home. He arranges a television interview and goes on the air to offer the two million dollars to anyone who can help him find his son’s kidnappers. Tom promises that the kidnappers won’t see one single dollar of the two million dollars spread before him, and that it will instead be offered as bounty for them: dead or alive.
Ransom, despite some of its flaws, is an absolute nail-biter of a story. Gibson and Russo pull their respective roles off with grace and style and honest emotion. Ransom is a remake of a 1956 movie of the same name that starred Glenn Ford. This 2004 DVD isn’t the only edition of the 1996 film on disc, but the other earlier efforts lacked the surround sound dubbing, an omission which many collectors and moviephiles detested. The 2004 version puts that issue to rest.
The extras that come on the disc are well worth watching. In addition to the deleted scenes, which add more details to the complex plot, Howard’s commentary is both welcome for its humor and its insight into moviemaking and what the director perceives the thriller audience to be.
Ransom is a great compromise for couples who want emotion for the lady and great action and tension for the gent. Howard, Gibson, and Russo all deliver, as do the others. The only downside to the movie is that the two stories (that of the Mullens and that of the kidnappers) really need more time for development. Although most of the relationship issues and conflicts are carried out on the screen, there is a lot missing that the discerning viewer would have liked more of, such as how the group of kidnappers all met and what the upshot of the Jacky Brown situation was going to be. The second ending to the movie is almost anti-climatic in a way after the severe table turning that goes on for the kidnappers. Still, the movie is immensely watchable as a rental, and definitely something a Mel Gibson collector would want.