Films have delicate structure. Remove or misplace one marble in the mosaic and the whole things comes crashing down. The best illustration for that could be found in Ransom, 1996 thriller directed by Ron Howard.
The plot is based on Cyril Hume's and Richard Maibaum's script for little known 1956 film starring Glen Ford (itself based on television play). Protagonist is Tom Mullen (played by Mel Gibson), former fighter pilot who has built lucrative airline from scratch and now belongs to Manhattan social elite. His road to top included some questionable business practices, but in private life Tom Mullen is a devout family man, utterly loyal to his wife Kate (played by Rene Russo) and 9-year old son Sean (played by Brawley Nolte). Little boy becomes target of kidnappers led by corrupt NYPD detective Jimmy Shaker (played by Gary Sinise). Distraught parents are soon faced with 2 million US$ ransom demand. FBI Agent Lonnie Hawkins (played by Delroy Lindo) advises them to pay the ransom, but the first attempt is botched. Tom Mullen starts doubting that he would ever see his son alive so he devises desperate scheme to turn tables on kidnappers - instead of ransom, he publicly offers 2 million US$ as a bounty for their heads.
For the most part, Ransom is surprisingly well-made thriller. Characters are well developed and multi-dimensional, their motivations are believable and Piotr Sobocinski's photography adds a lot to the gritty realism of the film. The acting is also very good - Mel Gibson is very convincing as a seemingly confident businessman with his worst nightmare, while Gary Sinise gives chilling portrayal of ruthless and intelligent villain. The script by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon even allows room for some intelligent observations about the state of class relations and corporate morality in contemporary America. Even the film's biggest plot twist looks original (despite being over-advertised in trailers) and the ending is simply brilliant... But the problem is that such ending is not the real ending of Ransom. Director Ron Howard is forced to abide by the rules of 1990s Hollywood commercial cinema and deprive the audience of the most logical and the most convincing finale. Instead we are subjected to completely unnecessary 15 minutes that involve shootouts, chases and utterly predictable outcome. Because of good acting, Ransom doesn't represent complete waste of time, but at the end viewers would be left with the bitter taste of wasted opportunity.
RATING: 3/10 (+)
(Note: The text in its original form was posted in Usenet newsgroup rec.arts.movies.reviews on April 15th 2003)
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