"I don't know who you are, but I know what you want. You're looking for ransom. I can tell you I have lots of money. I also have a very particular set of skills; particularly, skills that include the ability to unleash homophobic, misogynistic, and antisemitic rants so fast that even Jackie Chan couldn't get his foot in my mouth fast enough. Skills that make marketing films with me a nightmare for the very studios that once paid me millions upon millions of dollars. If you let my son go now, that'll be the end of it. I will not look for you, I will not pursue you...in short, I will treat you the same way the world treated 'The Beaver.' But if you don't, I will look for you, I will find you, and sugartits, I will kill you."
I...I'm sorry. I had to. When you think "kidnapped kid, pissed off vengeance seeking parent" movies these days, it's hard not to instantly make a beeline to Liam Neeson's career redefining role, for reasons other than the fact that it's somewhat new and fresh. 'Taken' didn't so much reinvent a genre as much as it put a lung full of fresh air into a plot device that has seen its usage fall off the radar in mainstream films. Recent hits like 'Man on Fire' or 'Gone Baby Gone' did quite well for themselves, but lacked the added tension and drama that comes when a parent is the one doing all the dirty work, and aside from 'Changeling,' this particular genre hasn't had a solid, memorable flick since Ron Howard's 'Ransom.' Sadly, even that film has been somewhat forgotten, as this Blu-ray release, dubbed the 15th anniversary edition, comes during the 16th anniversary of its release. Let's all hope Buena Vista didn't make it more awkward by buying a cake with numbers on it...(see also the 14th anniversary release of 'The Horse Whisperer 15th Anniversary.' What's going on here?!)
Mad Mel is perfectly cast in this flick in the leading role, as we believe he is capable of every single action his character takes. An entrepreneur in the airline industry, whose name has been recently sullied due to a labor issue and a purported bribe, Tom Mullen's willingness to pay people off has made him a target, and in the middle of his growing scandal, his son is kidnapped. Despite the captor's demands for no police involvement and a two million dollar ransom, Tom and his wife Kate (Rene Russo) bring in the FBI, who are routinely outplayed by a group of criminals who know the methods being used to hunt them down. After numerous botched recovery attempts, Tom takes his son's life and justice into his own hands, as he takes this all-too personal situation to another level, creating a media frenzy in an attempt to reunite his family.
It's films like 'Ransom' that remind us of the talents that Gibson squandered in the early 21st century. In Mullen, we have a man we are genuinely interested in, a sympathetic lead who doesn't alienate the audience by being a coward or fool in dire situations. He's a man of his word, who shows he's willing to go to any length to get his son (Brawley Nolte) back. He's a strong head of family, yet one who isn't so sentimental that his better judgement flies out the window, allowing for the fantastic plot twist where the tables are turned to not stand out as an awkward or bizarre device in a film that played it straight up to that point.
Whereas Gibson brings his "A game," it seems his surrounding cast are all prepared to be nothing more than scenery fillers. Russo is never capable of instilling empathy in her plight, while Delroy Lindo, who plays the head FBI agent on the case, never quite has us in his corner, as from the start we are led to question his abilities. The cadre of villains, including Gary Sinise, Liev Schreiber, Donnie Wahlberg, and Lili Taylor, never quite make sense, their plan slowly revealed, its inconsistencies and gaps in logic and foresight coming to light at the same time. In fact, the only other actor who comes close to matching Gibson's power in this flick is Nick Nolte's son, who definitely plays the part of a scared kid perfectly, emoting believably and genuinely. Through Nolte, we truly "get" why Gibson's father character puts everything on the line, as they are the only two fully realized people in the flick.
'Ransom' spends a large amount of time developing tertiary characters in an attempt to bring us a full, lived in world that isn't just about a father and his son, but does so in vain. As such, it isn't a top tier ransom film, even if it's damn entertaining. Through memorable sequences and a fantastic plot twist, this film will find itself among fan favorites for some time, but its random missteps prevent it from being the end all, say all. Fans of the film should definitely give it another watch, to see how it has aged, in some places great, in others not so much, to remind ourselves in this ever evolving world of cinema the way that great sometimes turns into "good enough," and how nostalgia can make a film seem a bit better in memory than it is in actuality.
The Disc: Vital Stats
Disney didn't farm out 'Ransom' to the fly-by-nighters, instead opting to release the film on a Region A/B/C coded BD50 disc. Typical Disney menu navigation (aka the best in the biz, especially at pre-menu garbage) and a lack of packaging frills is the name of the game. 'Ransom' is one of the earlier titles from Disney to feature a generic blue disc art with nothing but text.
'Ransom' hits Blu-ray for the first time with this release, and the 1080p/AVC MPEG-4 transfer on this disc is passable. First things first, I don't think it's fair to mention anything positive without commenting on the sometimes egregious edge enhancement found here, including moments that are impossible to miss, even for those who have a knack for missing the effect. The picture isn't very deep, but it does feature very bold colors and pretty good detail levels, and while blacks are almost spot-on, there is some minor crush here and there, particularly in darker shirts. Textures can be hit-or-miss, with the same objects feeling authentic then painted as the film progresses. There are some minor noise concerns and more than a few soft shots, along with a few moments of questionable grain structure, but all in all this catalog release is solid enough, once you get past the halo glow.
While the video on this disc can be questionable, the audio, presented in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, is a winner, even if it often broadcasts its age. This track features some curious attempts at creating a full room soundstage, including dialogue that localizes (yet is hardly intelligible), sounds that freely move around the channels (but never hit the rears), and even score elements that occasionally forget that there are, in fact, rear speakers in the mix. Heck, the finale to the film has no movement or localization effects whatsoever, despite being a pivotal scene with plenty of obvious opportunities to do exactly that much. Sadly, Billy Corgan's elements of the score are also overpowered within a second of being discernible. High ends prove to be a little blunt, while dialogue blossoms with an abundance of warmth from the front channels, though a few moments seem to fade in and out. On a positive note, volume can really spike on this track, and bass ambience in the score is beyond appreciable and ample for most every sequence. 'Ransom' isn't a young pup, and it definitely does sound like a dog that is in dire need of learning some new tricks, but considering its age, it's still a mile ahead of its peers.
'Ransom' is an interesting film, one where the plot twists are shown early, where the audience has to root for the good guys to make the same discoveries. It's one of those films that may be better left in memory than rediscovering, but some may find it far more enjoyable as they mature/age. This catalog Disney Blu-ray release is passable, and has a nice little pile of extras for the asking price. Fans will definitely want to check this out.