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Film / Ransom

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Tom Mullen

Ransom is a 1996 thriller film, directed by Ron Howard. It was intended as a loose remake of "Ransom!" (1956), but ended up barely resembling its predecessor.

Our story features a wealthy couple, Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson) and his wife Kate (Rene Russo). Tom is the proud owner of an airline company and easily an ultra high net worth individual by 1996 standards. Shortly after their introduction to the audience, former employee Maris Conner (Lili Taylor) kidnaps their son Sean (Brawley Nolte). The film proceeds to introduce her accomplices, siblings and small-time crooks Clark (Liev Schreiber) and Cubby (Donnie Wahlberg) Barnes, high-tech criminal Miles Roberts (Evan Handler) and mastermind Jimmy Shaker (Gary Sinise), a corrupt NYPD detective.

Then their demand for ransom is raised, two million dollars. Some character conflict is introduced among the kidnappers. The more ruthless ones want to kill the kid anyway to avoid identification; the others want to release the boy, even risking identification. They agree to disagree until their ransom demands are met.


The story proceeds in the familiar pattern of the original film for a while. Tom gathers the money, but not as ransom, but turns it into a bounty on an instinct that he will not get his son back alive, turning the kidnapping into a game of cat-and-mouse as both Tom and Shaker turn increasingly desperate to get what they want.

The movie was a massive success, the fifth-highest grossing film domestically in 1996, marking another high point in the blockbuster careers of Gibson and Howard after both had a big presence at the Academy Awards earlier in the year, representing Braveheart and Apollo 13, respectively.


This movie contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: Shaker mentions how he put his girlfriend Maris's abusive father away.
  • Adult Fear: Having your son kidnapped and threatened to be killed if you cannot provide the money. Then getting a call from the kidnapper, angry that you decided to put the money as reward for his capture, and so he decides to shoot your son in retaliation and you get to hear him do it. And then the kid turns out alive, but the kidnapper comes to your house and forces you to give him the money at gunpoint, and threatens to come back some time in the future and take your son away again and kill him for good in revenge for the massive inconvenience you put him through...
  • Alas, Poor Villain: Cubby, the nicest of the kidnappers and the only one who was insistent that Sean be unharmed, is killed by the FBI in a shoot-out halfway through the movie, and bleeds out before he can tell Mullen anything.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Maris, the female kidnapper, is the girlfriend of crooked cop Shaker, the mastermind behind the kidnapping.
  • And This Is for...: Subverted when Shaker punches Mullen in revenge for Maris' death.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: Tom to Shaker via broadcast, after revealing that the money is no longer up for a ransom demand.
    Tom: Congratulations, you've just become a two-million-dollar lottery ticket, except the odds are much, much better. Do you know anyone that wouldn't turn you in for two million dollars?
    • And earlier with Agent Hawkins when the latter sees that Tom is thinking about not paying, noting that seven out of ten times, he got a child back after their ransom was paid:
    Hawkins: Tom, you've got to play the odds, man. I've been doing this for eighteen years, and if I were a betting man, I would bet on the people who pay every time, out of the gate.
    Tom: Did you bet on the ones where you got back a corpse?
  • Batman Gambit: The latter half of the kidnapping plot revolves around Tom and Shaker running increasingly bigger gambles against each other, expecting the other party to comply with their demands out of self-interest (Tom wanting his son back and Shaker wanting to get away with it, preferably with the money).
  • Big Applesauce
  • Bound and Gagged: How poor Sean is held.
  • Blood from the Mouth
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Sean, when freed, recognizes the voice of his kidnapper and wets himself in fear. Mullen sees the puddle he's making and gets clued in, then makes a valiant try at bluffing his way through his interaction with Shaker — of course, bluff checks are notoriously spotty when it comes to scenes like these.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mullen fears that his shady past has led to this.
  • Deadpan Snarker / The Alcoholic: The kidnapper played by Evan Handler. "You know, you're not going to get to go to your brother's funeral, either, man."
  • Destination Defenestration: Mullen flings both himself and Shaker through a glass window.
  • Dies Wide Open
  • Dirty Cop: NYPD officer Jimmy Shaker is the mastermind behind the kidnapping and planned to kill Sean all along.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Shaker comes across the kidnappers' hideout, apparently by mistake. He sneaks in, discovers the whole operation, surprises the only thug present and holds him at gunpoint. It looks like the kid is saved! Shaker then... scolds the thug for not protecting the hideout properly. He's a Dirty Cop, in fact the mastermind behind the kidnapping, and he merely tells his conspirator not to be so stupid in the future.
  • Every Helicopter Is a Huey: The cops arrive in one, prompting a quadbike chase.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Mullen isn't a knight in shining armor, but he does point out that he was dealing with someone who was going to kill his son anyway so he couldn't give in to his demands. Shaker doesn't want to hear it.
  • Fake Kill Scare: Shaker calls Mullen and threatens to kill Sean if the latter doesn't gives him the money. Mullen pulls a Papa Wolf rant and threatens to escalate instead (not only the reward but also hiring bounty hunters to find the man wherever he's in the world), for which Shaker retaliates by going to Sean's room, drawing his gun and shooting once with the handset near it. Mullen believes that Shaker has just killed his son and drops his phone in horror.
  • Hate Sink: There's no reason to like Shaker at the start of the film, but as events go on he becomes more of a jerk doing things like shooting his own accomplices, taking insults from Mullen badly and threatening to kidnap the child again to spite Mullen. By the end of the film we're rooting for his death.
  • Heel–Face Door-Slam:
    • Poor Cubby.
    • Maris also tries to kill Shaker after he turns on the rest of the group. Unfortunately for her, his aim turns out to better than hers.
  • Hypocrite: Shaker beats up Tom for calling him human garbage, when his actions in the film pretty much justify that statement. He also does it for hampering his plans and placing a bounty on him.
  • Insane Troll Logic: Shaker raves at Mullen that he took a bullet to save his son... a bullet he got from his own conspirators, who he was killing to make himself look good and who furthermore were trying to quit the plan and get away.
  • I Have Your Wife: Shaker has Mullen's son, and he wants a ransom. Mullen decides to Take a Third Option.
  • Kill the Ones You Love: Jimmy Shaker seems to care for Maris, his girlfriend and fellow kidnapper. When he kills the two expendable remaining kidnappers to make himself out as a hero cop, she shoots him in turn, clearly expecting him to dispose of her as well. He seems a bit shocked at this before he kills her as well with apparent remorse. He's also showing obvious regret at the end when he's telling his travel agent he'll only need one ticket.
  • Laser-Guided Karma: Shaker takes things practically, but when he loses control he seeks vengeance, which backfires on him.
    • He shoots a gun while on the phone with Tom in an effort to break him by making him think he's shot his son, but this leaves him with no way to get his ransom now and he must come up with a new plan, which involves him shooting his own people.
    • When he reveals himself to Tom, he accepts an offer of money and escape, but ominously warms that he'll come back for Tom's son one day for having screwed him over. This gets Tom riled up and gives him a beatdown.
  • Leave No Witnesses: The intention has been to kill Sean all along, even though he's blindfolded the entire time. Given that he later identifies the Big Bad just by his voice, this turns out to be Properly Paranoid.
  • Lima Syndrome: One kidnapper, Cubby (Donnie Wahlberg), seems to want to be friends with the boy. As he's the Anti-Villain, he gets a Heel–Face Door-Slam.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer shows Gary Sinise brandishing his gun and badge, but conceals the identity of the kidnapper, to let the audience assume he's playing a detective investigating the case.
  • No-Holds-Barred Beatdown: A naturally rather livid Mullen gives Shaker a rather nasty pummeling during the chase when the police arrive. Shaker tries to drive him off by kicking him into a running car and shoving him through a glass window, but he still keeps coming after him.
  • Papa Wolf: Deconstructed. Tom will do anything to get his son back. When he realizes that the kidnappers are going to kill Sean anyway even if he gives them the ransom money, he tries to turn the tables on them by turning the ransom into a reward for their capture. Tom maintains his resolve when the mastermind calls him up and Tom threatens to hunt him down if he doesn't get his son back immediately. The kidnapper pretends to shoot Sean and Tom breaks down from his apparent failure. Luckily he still gets Sean back later on, but he played an immensely dangerous gamble that could just as easily have ended this way.
  • Phoney Call: While pretending to call his private aircraft to fly Shaker out of the country, Mullen actually places the call to the FBI so they'll know something is wrong.
  • Pop-Star Composer: Aside from James Horner, the movie also features music composed by Billy Corgan of The Smashing Pumpkins.
  • Pragmatic Villainy:
    • The kidnap ransom for Sean is only for 2 million, even though Mullen is worth far more, in order to keep things simple. This clues in that the person behind the kidnapping is a professional.
    • Shaker is going to kill Tom's son when he get the ransom, but only because the boy can recognize them. He later loses this and takes beating Tom personally.
  • Reality Ensues: The televised ransom prompts 4,000 phone calls from people offering phoney leads, and each lead that looks plausible- no matter how wrong- results in another FBI agent wasting their time pursuing it rather than spending time working on the actual case.
  • Retired Badass: Tom Mullen fought in over 20 combat missions for air force before retiring. It's also what inspired him to get in airline business.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Shaker devolves into this by the final fight.
  • Shocking Voice Identity Reveal: Sean wets himself when he hears Shaker's voice in his home. This leads to Mullen realizing that he was behind it all.
  • Soft Glass: Very much averted. Mullen looks cut up from going through the glass and Shaker, who went through first, appears mortally wounded.
  • Taking You with Me: During the final chase, Shaker tries to fight off Mullen by shoving him through a glass window. Mullen just grabs hold of Shaker and charges in, injuring them both.
  • To the Pain: The "Will today be Jimmy Shaker Day?" speech is Shaker threatening to come back one day and kidnap and kill Sean for good for all the inconveniencing Tom put him through. The spirit of this trope is the fact Shaker points out that Cullen will keep fearing the day he comes back, jump at shadows and go overboard with security... which will make the eventual kill all the more sweet.
  • Trailers Always Spoil: What Tom turns the ransom into is intended as a shock and surprise move to everyone, but since the gambit was featured heavily in the trailer, the audience knows that we get to this point an hour in (this was the climactic act in the original, and the kidnappers simply panicked and let the kid go free). That said, the trailer does NOT spoil an earlier plot twist: the fact that Gary Sinise's character is involved in the kidnapping. The trailer simply shows him as a police officer.
  • Tranquil Fury: Shaker in the bar when Tom's broadcast airs.
  • Villain Ball: Had Shaker kept the conversation to a minimum when asking for the reward money, like not prodding Mullins on why he didn't pay the ransom for example, he might've been able to get the money and walk off into the sunset, no one being the wiser. Unfortunately for him, he couldn't control his obvious seething anger at being called "human garbage," and the fact that his talking causes Sean to recognize his voice as one of the kidnappers, resulting in Mullins putting 2 and 2 together. He also decides to swear he will come back for Sean just for the sake of keeping Mullins jumping at shadows for years to come, which seals his fate.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Shaker is cool, calm and coldly calculating for much of the film, but once his plan starts to unravel, he basically spends the entire second half of the movie slowly becoming more sloppy and violent, culminating in him shooting his fellow criminals, getting shot himself, and then dying in a very bloody fight and shootout because of mistakes he kept making, like not leaving as soon as possible.
  • Villainous Rescue: When Mullen goes on television saying he's not going to pay up, Shaker has to rush out to the forest where his gang are already digging a grave for Sean and stop them murdering him. Then when further attempts to get the ransom fail, Shaker murders his fellow conspirators and 'rescues' Sean, hoping to claim the reward money.
  • Wham Line: "What were you gonna do with the videos? The kid's in a cocoon, for Christ's sake."
    • When Mullen tries to deliver the ransom the first time, he is told that the cutout man will give him the information he needs to find Sean. After Tom hands over the money and asks for the information, the cutout man is completely confused. The Wham Line in particular is as simple as the man saying "What?"
  • What the Hell, Hero?: The reaction by Kate, the FBI, and most everybody else when Mullen pulls his gambit.
  • You Have Outlived Your Usefulness: Why Tom thinks he won't get back Sean even if he pays the ransom.
    Tom: Why would they ever let my son go, no matter what I do? I mean, no matter what I do; pay, don't pay, comply, tell him to go fuck himself, why would they give him back? I mean, he's a witness any way you cut it.
    • Shaker does this to his own acomplices as part of a new plan to get the ransom.


Example of: