Ransom – A Movie Review and Comparison – Part 1
In 1996 Ron Howard directed a remake of Ransom. He cast Mel Gibson and Rene Russo in the leads as Tom and Kate Mullen the parents of a young son Sean. Tom is the owner of his own airline and a leading member of New York high society. During an educational event in Central Park at which Kate is a judge Sean is kidnapped while Tom was distracted.
Now we meet the kidnappers. Maris is a caterer who works for the Mullens. Brothers Clark and Cubby Barnes and Miles Roberts are small time criminals. But the mastermind of the gang is Police Detective Jimmy Shaker, played by the great Gary Sinise, who set up the whole crime and uses his knowledge of police procedures to engineer a convoluted ransom transfer. He has Tom carry the two million dollars to a civic center and jump in a swimming pool to destroy any electronic devices. Then Tom switches cars and drives to New Jersey while Shaker gives Tom directions over a mobile phone. During this phone call Shaker answers Tom’s question of why Tom’s family was picked. Shaker tells him that Tom is a man who buys his way out of trouble. Tom paid off men to frame a labor leader that was making trouble for Tom’s airline. From Shaker’s point of view, he sees Tom as a sure thing to pay his son’s ransom. Then Shaker tells Tom the story of the Eloi and the Morlocks from H. G. Wells’ story “The Time Machine.” To Shaker the Mullens and the other elites are the Eloi living in the daylight world of wealth and privilege while Shaker and the rest of the Morlocks slave away in the underworld of the poor. He states that it’s just the nature of things that the cannibalistic Morlocks have to surface from time to time to eat an Eloi.
Tom demands to know how the exchange will lead him to his son to which Shaker replies that when Tom hands the money over to the courier, he’ll be given the address where his son can be found. But when he arrives at a quarry where the courier takes the money, he is given no address and Tom notices the look of confusion on the courier’s face when the question is asked. The courier is Cubby Barnes played by Donnie Wahlberg who was the only one of the kidnappers who treated Sean Mullen decently during his captivity. FBI helicopters chase after Cubby on his ATV and when the agents start rappelling to the ground Cubby fires at them with an automatic weapon. In answer he is killed by gunfire from the law enforcement agents.
The kidnappers are in disarray after this because Cubby’s identity will make his brother’s identity easy to figure out. But undaunted, Shaker immediately contacts Tom and begins a second transfer operation. But Tom has figured out that the kidnappers have no intention of releasing his son. So instead of proceeding to the drop he tells Shaker to watch Channel 5 on the television for further information. Tom calls his corporate friends and arranges to be put on the air. He lays the two million dollars on a table and into the camera he tells the kidnappers and the world that he has no intention of paying the ransom and instead want the two million to be a reward for capturing his son’s abductors. He gives the kidnappers a way out saying if Sean is returned unharmed, he will withdraw the reward.
Everyone turns against Tom, the FBI agents who have been advising him, his wife Kate and every man on the street who is questioned by the media. Now Shaker calls him up and threatens to kill Sean if Tom doesn’t pay the ransom. Tom says he doesn’t believe he’ll return Sean at all. Now the kidnappers send a note through the housekeeper to Kate to show up late at night in a deserted church to arrange for an exchange. Kate is attacked by Shaker in disguise who punches her and chokes her before leaving her with Sean’s shirt soaked in blood.
Kate begs Tom to relent but instead Tom goes down to the street and tells the reporters that he is doubling the reward to four million dollars. Shaker calls up enraged and shouts at Tom that he will kill Sean if Tom doesn’t agree to the ransom immediately. Tom shouts abuse at Shaker and then he hears a gunshot ring out over the phone. Kate attacks Tom and slaps him repeatedly and collapses to the floor. Tom stumbles out onto the penthouse roof and at first seems to be planning to jump but then collapses onto the roof sobbing. Kate finds her way to the roof and consoles him.
But Shaker fired into the wall. Sean is alive. Now Clark Barnes and Miles Roberts are packing their van to leave the scene and Maris is panicked and doesn’t know whether to run or kill herself with a gun she has. She is romantically involved with Shaker but their bond has been broken by the sordid nature of the crime they are committing. The only one who isn’t panicking is Shaker. He’s come up with Plan B. He calls up the precinct on his radio and tells them that there is a kidnapping at the address they are holding Sean at. He shoots Clark and Miles as they try to drive off but Maris shoots him in the shoulder. Shaker returns fire and kills her. Now Shaker pretends that he discovered the kidnapping and puts himself in line for the four-million-dollar reward.
Sean is returned to his parents traumatized but only slightly injured and the Mullens begin to bring their lives back to normal. One day Shaker shows up at the Mullens’ home to collect his reward but as Tom is writing out the check, he sees Sean quaking with fear at Shaker’s voice. Tom realizes what it means but almost immediately afterward Shaker knows that Tom knows. At this point Shaker’s anger leads him to say he will execute Tom. But Tom convinces him that they can go to Tom’s bank and have the reward transferred to Shaker’s offshore bank. Then Tom agrees to fly Shaker to Mexico in his private jet. While driving to the bank Tom ostensibly calls the airport to set up his flight but actually calls the FBI and tips them off to where he is headed.
Tom and Shaker make the wire transfer at the bank but as they’re leaving some NYPD who have been alerted by the FBI attempt to arrest Shaker. He shoots two of them and takes off running. Tom catches him and beats him brutally but Shaker manages to push Tom into traffic where he is shaken up by a passing car. Now there is a foot race and finally Tom grabs Shaker and throws him through a plate glass window. Tom retrieves Shaker’s gun and covers him with it. The NYPD and FBI show up and tell Tom to drop the gun and Shaker to lay on the ground. Shaker is bleeding profusely from a neck wound from the broken window but he secretly reaches for an ankle holster. When Tom drops his gun arm to his side Shaker pulls his gun to shoot Tom but is beaten to the draw by Tom and several law-enforcement officers. Shaker is shot dead and Kate shows up to hug Tom and signal the end of the nightmare.
Wow, that’s a lot of stuff, to stuff into one movie. And I’ve left out a lot of details. The FBI Special Agent Lonnie Hawkins played by Delroy Lindo has a role in convincing Kate to stop Tom from offering the reward. He also is privy to Tom’s perjury in the conviction of the labor leader. The relationships between the various kidnappers is complicated and volatile. There are a lot of moving pieces.
It’s a well-crafted movie. At certain points the various characters border on hysterics but considering the roles and stakes involved the action is reasonable. None of the characters is blameless but even some of the criminals may make some claims to the viewers sympathy. I think it’s a good crime drama with a lot of human interest. I can recommend it as worth seeing.
In the last part of this review I’ll look at the 1956 and the 1996 versions of Ransom to see how they compare and what that comparison might say about the years in which they were made.