Mel Gibson and Rene Russo star in RANSOM, directed by Ron Howard for Touchstone Pictures.

Ransom (1996, Ron Howard), the extended version

Ransom is not Richard Price’s only “big Hollywood” movie (and it’s probably not his most anomalous one either), but there’s something very particular about the film. You’re watching a mix of various 1990s genres–a Mel Gibson movie, a Richard Price cop movie, and a Ron Howard movie. Except not the current Oscar-bait Ron Howard, the incredibly sturdy and wonderful Ron Howard of that brief period in the 1990s. I’ve seen the original Ransom! and while it is different, most of what the remake adds is the Price-written Gary Sinise material. And it’s a Richard Price cop thing being used for the most Hollywood, blockbuster aspect of the film too, which might be why Ransom is so weird. You’d expect Price to contribute something a little off kilter, but instead, he’s building up toward the rousing finale.

I haven’t seen Ransom in years, mostly because I kept waiting for the as yet still missing DVD release of the extended edition. The longer version adds a lot for Delroy Lindo and, I think, Rene Russo to do. Because the majority of Ransom, the first hour and forty-five minutes of the two-twenty extended version is all Mel Gibson. It’s at least half character study and Gibson does a fantastic job. Mel the actor is always forgotten or ignored (today probably forgotten), but once he hit his 1990s stride (and it’s a spotty stride, but it’s a definite stride), he was giving excellent performances. Just some of his scenes in here, they’re fantastic. I sat and realized Mel Gibson of this era could do anything, he has some perfect scenes. You also get Gibson in contrast to Gary Sinise, who was still somewhat indie at this stage (appreciated only in TV movies) and Mel runs circles around him. Delroy Lindo’s great–the extended version adding significant layers of complexity to his character–and Rene Russo is good too. For about half the movie, she doesn’t have anything to do and then all of a sudden, she has to do everything for a ten minute stretch and she carries it. She and Gibson have a perfect chemistry too.

As for Ron Howard… the Ron Howard who made Ransom was about the most exciting filmmaker in Hollywood. I have no idea what happened (I can guess–pet project Edtv bombed–bombing pet projects often deter great careers, but Howard’s probably will never recover, which is a tragedy). He maintains a sense of coldness, of space-heater heating–he creates a physical temperature with Ransom (his cinematographer helps, of course)–and the attention he gives Mel Gibson, and just the way the film moves from character to character, kidnapper to parents, parents to cops, everything just moves perfectly. It never gets lost, which is amazing.

I always forget the 1990s really did have a bunch of great people making a bunch of really good movies. I mistrust my memory of it, but then I go back and look and I see these films again and think about the people making them and what they were making and something very definite happened and capital-f film suffered. I was about to blame it on Lucas and Episode I (with no basis other than he closed a loop of quality opened in 1977) then I was going to blame it on James Cameron and Titanic (Blockbuster-maker wins Oscar, inspires others to get insipid), but I’d rather close off with something more on Ransom. The last shot. It’s short and it’s over the end credits and it’s a time lapse of a screen corner and it doesn’t belong. Beautiful James Horner music (before he too became a joke) and just this confusing shot, which you get only after it’s moments from being totally black, and there’s something striking about beautiful about how Howard closes the story off for the viewer. It’s quick and graceful, but it’s a ‘thank you’ for watching my film. Other films having such ‘thank yous,’ but it’s inappropriate in Ransom and it’s nice for just that reason.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Ron Howard; written by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon, based on a story by Cyril Hume and Richard Maibaum; director of photography, Piotr Sobocinski; edited by Dan Hanley and Mike Hill; music by James Horner; production designer, Michael Corenblith; produced by Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer and B. Kipling Hagopian; released by Touchstone Pictures.

Starring Mel Gibson (Tom Mullen), Rene Russo (Kate Mullen), Brawley Nolte (Sean Mullen), Gary Sinise (Jimmy Shaker), Delroy Lindo (Agent Lonnie Hawkins), Lili Taylor (Maris Connor), Liev Schreiber (Clark Barnes), Donnie Wahlberg (Cubby Barnes) and Evan Handler (Miles Roberts).


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