on November 08, 1996 by Christine James
   Whatever the advantages of being rich and famous, they can't outweigh the stresses and dangers of becoming a target for tabloid media, litigious manipulators, sleazy opportunists and a variety of head cases. In this thriller, Mel Gibson stars as airline mogul Tom Mullen--a man who appears to have it all. He and his wife (Rene Russo) may live life in the limelight, but it's an existence fraught with harassment, incessant scrutiny and unapologetic invasion of privacy. They manage to handle that gracefully, but when kidnappers looking for a big payday abduct their young son, Sean (Brawley Nolte--actor Nick's son), they are torn apart, and would trade all their wealth for his safe return. Unfortunately, they're dealing with ruthless, cold-blooded criminals who seem just as apt to kill Sean as return him. When Tom realizes that paying the ransom might in fact expedite his son's murder, he takes a different tack and goes on the offensive. Appearing on national television, he announces he will not pay one dime to the kidnappers, but instead offers up the demanded $2 million as a bounty on the abductors' heads.
   In doing this, he panics his already devastated wife, who insists he withdraw the threat. FBI agent Lonnie Hawkins (Delroy Lindo) also tries to convince Tom he's made a fatal mistake. But while the audience, privy to the kidnappers' scheme, knows he's done the right thing, Tom is tormented by the idea that he's further jeopardized his son, yet stands firm in his belief that this is the only tactic that can possibly work.
   Lili Taylor, Liev Schreiber, Donnie Wahlberg and Evan Handler comprise the motley crew of kidnapping flunkies, with cop-gone-bad Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise) as the ingenious but heartless ringleader. It does seem unrealistic that someone as intelligent as Shaker would assemble such a team of unprofessional losers, but between the belligerent girlfriend (Taylor), the caustic drunk (Handler), the bumbling softie (Wahlberg) and his protective brother (Schreiber), the dark entertainment value of the eclectic characters makes you forgive their lack of qualification. But Shaker is a villain to contend with, and most of the tension in the film comes from his unstable malevolence, and his reactions when Tom attempts to turn the tables.
   While not quite edge-of-your-seat caliber, this two-hour thriller is well-paced and well-acted, with superior, powerfully tense performances by both Gibson and Sinise. The insensitive invasiveness of tabloid journalism is also addressed, and judging by some of the cheers when Tom retaliates against some tenacious cameramen, the paparazzi had better watch out--the growing disdain for their vulturous profession is palpable. An otherwise climactic ending sort of trails off, but overall "Ransom" is a satisfying mix of suspense, human drama, character study and the ever-popular vigilante-style comeuppance. Starring Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Delroy Lindo, Lili Taylor and Brawley Nolte. Directed by Ron Howard. Written by Richard Price and Alexander Ignon. Produced by Scott Rudin, Brian Grazer and B. Kipling Hagopian. A Buena Vista release. Thriller. Rated R for graphic bloody violence and strong language. Running time: 121 min. Opens 11/8 wide
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