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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 to 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.
  • Action Dad: Mullen was a former soldier and puts his combat training to good use in the final battle.
  • 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.
  • And Your Little Dog, Too!: The entire film revolves around Sean's kidnapping, but this trope is invoked by Jimmy Shaker swearing that he will take Tom's money and leave, but he will return some day to kidnap Sean again and kill him, no matter how much Tom will try to keep him safe, strictly for the sake of revenge. This prompts Tom to attack him with full intent to kill at the first possible moment.
  • 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: Well obviously.
  • Bound and Gagged: How poor Sean is held.
  • Blood from the Mouth: This happens to Mullen after visiting Jackie Brown in prison after accusing him of being his son's kidnapper.
  • Bring My Brown Pants: Sean, when freed, recognizes the voice of his kidnapper and wets himself as he sees Shaker. 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.
  • Car Hood Sliding: When chasing down Shaker on foot, Mullen performs a hood slide on a taxi that was passing by.
  • Cassandra Truth: Played with. Mullen points out that Shaker will kill his son even if he gets paid the ransom, but the cops and his wife consider it an option worth trying.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Mullen fears that his shady past has led to this.
  • Deadpan Snarker / The Alcoholic: Miles Roberts. "You know, you're not going to get to go to your brother's funeral, either, man."
  • Destination Defenestration: In the climactic confrontation, Mullen flings both himself and Shaker through a glass window.
  • Dies Wide Open: Maris.
  • Dirty Cop: NYPD detective Jimmy Shaker is the mastermind behind the kidnapping and planned to kill Sean all along.
  • Do Wrong, Right: Shaker follows Cubby from a corner bodega to the kidnappers' hideout. He sneaks in, discovers the whole operation, rousts Cubby by putting a gun to his head...and scolds him 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 FBI SWAT team arrives during the drop with Cubby on helicopters, prompting a quadbike chase.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones:
    • Jimmy Shaker seems to care for Maris Conner, 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.
    • Clark becomes devastated when his brother Cubby dies.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: While the other kidnappers have no problem with killing Sean once they get their money, Cubby is the only one who strongly objects to stooping that low in killing a kid and mentions to Clark that he won’t give up the money until Jimmy releases Sean. Unfortunately he is shot dead before he can do so.
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Shaker was always going to kill Mullen's son, but he gets upset over Mullen trying to stop him from it by refusing to his terms.
  • 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.
  • Fast-Roping: The FBI SWAT team that shows up for the first attempted drop attempt to fast-rope down to pursue Cubby.
  • Hates Rich People: Shaker has no particular love for wealthy elites like Tom, and explains his philosophy using The Time Machine as an allegory:
    Det. Jimmy Shaker: The Morlocks, they don't eat grapes... they're cannibals. They eat Eloi. So when I think of The Time Machine, it kind of reminds me of New York City, you know? See, you're an Eloi. You and all your friends walking around like zombies with no fucking idea of the shit going on down below. So... does this make me a Morlock? I don't like to think of myself like- I guess it does. And every once in a while, one of you gets snatched.
  • 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 threatens 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 Maris, who he was killing to make himself look good and who furthermore was 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.
  • 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 accomplices.
    • When he reveals himself to Tom, he accepts an offer of money and escape, but ominously warns 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 Shaker just by his voice, this turns out to be Properly Paranoid.
  • Lima Syndrome: Cubby seems to want to be friends with Sean. As he's the Anti-Villain, he gets a Heel–Face Door-Slam.
  • The Morlocks: Shaker considers himself a predator that feeds on an Eloi (Tom) better than him.
  • Neverending Terror: Invoked by Jimmy Shaker in the final act, who swears that if Mullen tries anything while they're going to pick up the money from the bank, he will just vanish and come back in the future to kidnap and kill Sean, no matter what Mullen does to try to protect the kid, strictly to get revenge. He could not have grasped on to the Villain Ball any tighter if he'd had it glued to his hand.
  • Never Trust a Trailer: The trailer shows Shaker brandishing his gun and badge, but conceals the identity of the kidnapper, to let the audience assume he's playing a good guy.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The televised ransom prompts 4,000 phone calls from people offering phony 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.
  • 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 Shaker calls him up and Tom threatens to hunt him down if he doesn't get his son back immediately. Shaker 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.
    • Even more so because the first reaction of the gang is to cut their loses and kill their hostage. He's only saved because Shaker is so determined to get the money.
  • Paranoia Fuel:
    • Mullen injects a healthy dose of this into the kidnappers when he turns the ransom into a reward, basically saying he'll give it all to whomever in the gang rats out everyone else and gives him his son back. Considering the fact that that person could easily turn State's Evidence as well, they wouldn't be prosecuted and would have millions. The looks on all their faces after Mullen does this says it all. They can't trust each other anymore, and Mullen just started playing them off against each other.
    • Shaker does this with Mullen, warning him that if anything goes wrong when they go to the bank to pick up the money, he'll vanish and Mullen will spend the rest of his life worrying that Shaker will come back for his son, this time for revenge.
  • 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 to Hawkins 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.
    • Tom's plan to get his son back depends entirely on the hostage takers rating their own survival more valuable than anything. This works; when Shaker is ready to murder Sean out of spite during a heated exchange, he misfires at the last second and storms off.
      Mullen: You kill him, you'll kill yourself you motherfucker!
  • Ransom Drop: Shaker instructs Tom to go from phone to phone to get subsequent directions, and at one point instructs him to jump into a pool to destroy any electronics he might have on him. When Tom finally gets to the drop, it turns out the FBI have been following him the whole time, and the hand-off goes bad very quickly.
  • Retired Badass: Tom Mullen fought in over 20 combat missions for the Air Force before retiring. It's also what inspired him to get in the airline business.
  • Revenge Before Reason: Shaker devolves into this by the final fight.
  • Self-Defense Ruse: As Jimmy Shaker's kidnapping scheme begins to fall apart, his accomplices Clark and Miles decide Screw This, I'm Outta Here, at which Jimmy pulls a masterful change in plans: he radios a possible kidnap situation to his station, shouts "Put down the gun!" at Clark (who, realizing they're being double-crossed, tries desperately to drive off), then shoots both of them before planting a gun in Miles's hand. Ironically, seconds later Shaker's girlfriend puts a bullet in his shoulder, and he deliberately returns fire (claiming later to have been spun around by the force of being shot), shooting her dead.
  • 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.
  • Stupid Crooks: Shaker chides Cubby, a career felon, for walking into a bodega to buy videotapes and kids' cereal filled with cops investigating an armed robbery at the place just a day after a high-profile kidnapping.
  • Suicide by Cop: Cornered by the police, Shaker draws his backup revolver from an ankle holster, despite knowing he's outnumbered, which prompts Mullen and Hawkins to shoot him. It's possible that he's doing so as he fears both the stigma of his crime's notoriety as well as the very real dangers of life in prison for a former police officer.
  • 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 Tom 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 Shaker is the ringleader. The trailer simply shows him as a police officer.
    • Though the fact that they show as little of Gary Sinise as possible in the trailer despite billing him above Delroy Lindo, who they do show plenty off in the trailer, could clue in some viewers that he might be the villain.
  • Tranquil Fury: Shaker in the bar when Tom's broadcast airs.
  • Villain Ball: Shaker could have gotten away with his kidnapping if he'd just kept cool and collected the reward money with as little conversation as possible. But he had to question Mullen on his methods, and not only does his talking causes Sean to recognize his voice, which also clues in Mullen and blows his reward, but his rage gets the better of him upon being called "human garbage". And when he threatens to come back for Sean if Mullen double-crosses him, this 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.
  • Would Hurt a Child: None of the other kidnappers, except for Cubby, seem to show any reservations over Jimmy wanting to kill Sean even after they get the ransom money.
  • Wham Line: "What were you gonna do with the videos? Huh? The kid's got tape on his eyes, 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. As Tom is handing over the ransom and asks for his son's location, Cubby is completely confused by Tom's request.
  • 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 accomplices as part of a new plan to get the reward for himself.