When a millionaire's son is kidnapped, the boy's father refuses to pay the ransom, instead putting a bounty on the kidnapper's heads. A tense game of cat and mouse begins. The stakes? The boy's life.
Long accustomed to effortlessly hitting the buttons marked "right" Ron Howard augments his record of super-slick big screen entertainment with a ruthlessly effective if mechanistic thriller.
Gibson is Tom Mullen, a self-made millionaire airline magnate with all the standard accoutrements of the super rich: a New York penthouse, a glam wife (Russo) and a cute kid (Brawley Nolte - yup, Nick's son). All is going tickety-boo, apart from the small matter of an accusation of shady dealings and bribery, when the family head off for an afternoon in the park. Which is when what was obviously described in script meetings as "every parent's worst nightmare" sees the sprog lifted by a gang of ruthless kidnappers who demand a pair of millions for the return of the tousled tot with fingers and toes still attached.
An FBI team, headed up by Lonnie Hawkins (Lindo), are called in and run around a lot looking efficient under the admiring gaze of Howard's camera. But then they balls-up the drop, plugging the only vaguely human kidnapper (Donnie Wahlberg - yup, Mark's brother) full of lead and leaving the kid to the less than tender mercies of cop-gone-kidnapper Jimmy Shaker (Sinise) and his revolting wife (Taylor) who spend most of the movie either pouring cough mixture down the blindfolded tot's throat or waving knives around.
There is, of course, only one thing to be done. Desperate Mullen goes on the telly and announces to a distinctly perturbed Sinise, a disapproving wife and all of America that the ransom will now be delivered to whoever brings the kidnapper in, dead or alive.
What saves Ransom from a script that has fewer twists than a snake with rigor mortis are strong performances both from Gibson - who in a sequence during which he thinks his plan has resulted in the dispersal of the poppet's cranial matter over a wall elevates a pretty one-dimensional character into something more closely resembling a stricken parent - and Sinise who is equally effective as the hissing baddie who capitalises on Mullen's reputation as a "payer".
Added to which is a harder edge in Howard's traditionally glossy style with the first shot of the bound child, blindfolded and tied to a filthy mattress delivering the kind of gut-churner of a shock to the helpless parents which all but the die-hard kiddie haters in the audience will share plus the kidnapping sequence itself in which he works up the tension masterfully as concerned glances turn to outright panic as the kid's parents slowly realise that their flaxen-haired pride and joy is no longer happily trotting about the place.
As a bonus there's a turn from Taylor as a Lady Macbethish power behind the throne who makes Myra Hindley look like a care worker. And with only an utterly redundant final reel in which Gibson and Sinise go head-to-head to sour the brew, Ransom pays up handsomely.
A masterclass in sustained tension, this thriller rarely lets the audience stray from the edge of their seats.
Reviewed by Adam Smith