Ransom (1996, Mel Gibson, Rene Russo)

Ransom Mel Gibson

The chances of the name Ron Howard occurring in the same sentence as “tough thriller” always seemed pretty remote, but with Ransom he showed he can shoot a movie to stand alongside the works of Michael Mann or Curtis Hanson. Mel Gibson plays Tom Mullen, a former fighter pilot who has built a major airline from the bottom up. But his success brings danger: his son Sean (Brawley Nolte, the son of Nick) is kidnapped and held for $2m ransom.

The kidnap gang is led by corrupt cop Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), who once investigated Mullen for illegal payments to end a strike: he figures Mullen will buy his way out of trouble. Mullen involves the FBI, led by agent Lonnie Hawkins (Delroy Lindo), but when they bungle a drop and his son’s life is in danger, Mullen takes matters into his own hands. He goes on national television offering a $2m bounty on the heads of the kidnappers and the safe return of his son and now it’s Shaker and his gang who are in danger…

A remake of the 1956 thriller with Glenn Ford, the two stand-out performances are from Gibson as the father who will do anything to rescue his son and Sinise as the vicious yet intelligent kidnapper. There are, of course, red herrings and cliff-hanging moments galore, but since the kidnappers’ identities are known from the outset, the tension comes from working out the denouement (the film is from Disney, so the chances of Sean’s death were always going to be nil). And there’s also a lot of pleasure to be had from the distinct noir look of the film, thanks to the camerawork of Piotr Sobocinski, long time collaborator with award-winning Polish director Krzysztof Kieslowski.

USA / 1996

Director: Ron Howard
Writers: Alexander Ignon, Richard Price

Cast: Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Brawley Nolte, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor