RANSOM - Ron Howard suspense thriller.
In the days of Classic Hollywood, directors of old were something of workhorses
churning out projects at breakneck speeds- sometimes multiple in a year- always occupied
with a new picture. These days, most A-list directors tend to favor a more personal approach,
often writing their own projects and taking years between films, resulting in a smaller quantity
in terms of their filmographies. However, one working director who could be pointed to as a
kindred spirit to the efficiency of those old workhorses would be Ron Howard. For decades,
Howard has leaped from genre to genre with a new movie seemingly popping up every year.
With a such consistent output, there are bound to be a few surprises lurking around and 1996’s
Ransom certainly fits the bill.
You have Ron Howard coming hot off Apollo 13, Mel Gibson a year after cleaning house at the Oscars with Braveheart (and beating Howard), post-Forrest Gump Gary Sinise, and even early turns by Donnie Wahlberg and Liev Schreiber. These elements together help give the familiar thriller premise of a business tycoon hunting for his abducted son an enjoyable flair.
Howard’s restrained direction helps the film avoid any of the genre’s cliche eclectic chaos. This is supported by the cast as well - particularly Gibson - who largely don’t allow themselves to
indulge in the melodrama of the situation. Gibson and Sinise pair well with one another and carry the narrative with Sinise giving a delightfully venomous turn. Together, they provide the film with an energy that keeps the audience on the hook throughout.
The initial concept surfaced in the television series, The United States Steel Hour, in a
1954 episode entitled “Fearful Decision.” In 1956, it was adapted into the feature film Ransom!
with Glenn Ford and Leslie Nielsen. Thirdly, the cop novel King’s Ransom by Ed McBain also
provided inspiration. Ron Howard was initially offered to direct the 1996 Gene Hackman film
The Chamber but turned it down to make Ransom (evidently a wise decision on his part as the
former presently sits at 12% on Rotten Tomatoes).
Interestingly, both Alec Baldwin and Ray Liotta were Howard’s first choices for Gary Sinise’s villain but both ended up rejecting it due to complaints regarding the film’s violence against children. Additionally, Harrison Ford, Dennis Quaid and Kevin Costner were considered for the lead but Gibson lends a fierce desperation to the part that it feels only he could bring. Although, that pain could possibly be attributed to the appendicitis he suffered during production, causing a halt in filming for a few days when he required an emergency appendectomy….
Despite the subject matter of the film being darker than his usual repertoire, Howard
considers the production to be a rewarding experience and remains proud of the film. Despite being overshadowed by his larger successes, Ransom is the director’s ninth highest rated film on Rotten Tomatoes (75%). When it was released, it received largely favorable reviews from
critics and an A- CinemaScore rating from audiences. Gibson went on to garner a Golden
Globe nomination for Best Actor. What might be most fascinating about the film’s release
however is that it ended up being the fifth highest grossing film of 1996. To think of a world in
which audiences would flock to the theater for an adult thriller seems almost alien in the
modern age where - literally - the vast majority of the annual box office top ten are sequels and
The sad reality is that if it were made today, Ransom would undoubtedly be another
medium-budget thriller financed by a streaming service, sentenced to drown in the deluge of
content. Luckily for us, we can skip the bland, formulaic thrillers of today and rediscover
Howard’s forgotten and inventive suspense story.