Ransom (1996)
Buena Vista Home Entertainment
Cast: Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise

Ron Howard’s action-thriller "Ransom" is an exciting ride with some wild and unexpected twists and turns, a wickedly exhilarating movie experience. Although the movie exhibits some weaknesses in the script and in its elaboration of the story’s characters, its front-loaded story and pace, not to mention Howard’s excellent directorial style, easily make up for it, propelling the movie forward at a breakneck speed.

Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) is a successful, self-made executive. He is the wealthy and powerful owner of an airline, covering some of his darker business practices with charming and streamlined commercials that reinforce his nice-guy image for the public eye. When his son is kidnapped during a public science contest fair, he and his wife (Rene Russo) are shattered. The kid is in the hands of a bunch of ruthless criminals, trying to extort a $2million ransom from the wealthy tycoon. The FBI advises the family to pay the ransom in order to get the boy back. They entangle Mullen in a foul play using him as bait in a stunt that almost causes his son’s death. Mullen decides on a self-determined, radical change in action and by turning the power of television to his advantage, he turns the tables on the kidnappers, who find themselves threatened and hunted, with no apparent way out.

"Ransom" is based on a racy and inventive script with plot twists that are dramatic and will keep you on the edge. However, the story is not entirely cohesive and the characters are somewhat one-dimensional throughout. These elements are enough to drive the story forward, but the movie never really reveals much of the characters’ backgrounds, motivations, or their true feelings. Still, they are believable and at any rate, the story’s pace doesn’t allow for much depth.

Mel Gibson’s portrayal of the feverishly determined Tom Mullen is brilliant and convincing. He is a man used to making decisions, and he allows this notion to infect his character throughout the movie, giving the character strength and believability – this allows him to avoid being sidetracked by the FBI officers’ well-meant counseling, the outcome of which is just as uncertain as his own. While I would not want to advocate self justice by any means, his actions make perfect sense in this movie’s context and the fact that he gets directly entagled with the kidnappers in the end, is not necessarily to his own liking. Gibson also manages successfully to bring across that under the polished, shiny surface of the self-made millionaire, there is a darker side to Mullen – a ruthless businessman who is willing to pay his way out of trouble, a fact of which the kidnappers are well aware. Rene Russo’s performance is a little too controlled, making it hard to buy her part as a mother afraid for her child’s life. Gary Sinise puts in an excellent performance, portraying the bad temper and despair building when the kidnapper finds the tables turned and himself hunted like an animal. He begins to mistrust everyone around him and keeps a constant eye on his accomplices.

"Ransom" is presented only in its 1.85:1 <$PS,widescreen> aspect ratio on this DVD from Buena Vista Home Entertainment. The movie contains a wide range of lighting conditions from broad daylight scenes to somber and murky interiors. The image quality of this disc is superb throughout those varying lighting conditions, exhibiting sharpness, lots of details and stable colors throughout. Fleshtones are natural and overall colors are nicely saturated without any hint of noise or <$pixelation,pixelation> in the image.

James Horner’s atmospheric music score adds a lot to "Ransom’s" suspenseful and tension-packed atmosphere. Like in his earlier genre work in "The Pelican Brief", Horner’s score for "Ransom" does not rely on a leitmotif very much, but rather makes use of different phrases, individual motives, and percussive orchestration for the various settings. Much of the musical vocabulary he uses intrinsically helps to intensify the impact of the images you see on screen, and the wide frequency response and dynamic range of the disc’s <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack give it the visceral impact needed to drive some of the action scenes home. The movie comes with an English and a French audio track, as well as Spanish subtitles.

The movie tries hard to take a different approach and successfully avoids many of the genre’s clichés. There are many unexpected plot twists and subtleties that give "Ransom" a rather unique feel. It’s a good looking movie, too, and seeing Mel Gibson in a top-notch performance puts this movie easily in the ranks of the "Don’t miss it!" DVDs.