The original story came from a 1954 episode of The United States Steel Hour titled "Fearful Decision". In 1956, it was adapted by Richard Maibaum and Cyril Hume into the feature film Ransom!, starring Glenn Ford, Donna Reed, and Leslie Nielsen. The film was also influenced by Ed McBain's police procedural novel King's Ransom.
The film received mostly positive reviews, and was a major financial success, becoming the 5th highest-grossing film of 1996 in the United States.
While multi-millionaire Tom Mullen (Gibson) and his wife Kate (Russo) attend a science fair, their son Sean is kidnapped. Sean (Nolte) is taken to an apartment by Maris Connor (Taylor), a caterer for the Mullens, along with criminal brothers Clark & Cubby Barnes and hacker Miles Roberts. Tom and Kate receive an e-mail from the kidnappers demanding $2,000,000. Tom calls the FBI, which begins operating from his New York City penthouse.
Detective Jimmy Shaker (Sinise) of the NYPD is arresting a perpetrator in a convenience store when Cubby (Wahlberg) buys some FrankenBerry cereal. Shaker follows Cubby into the building where the kidnappers are residing, sees Sean tied in a bedroom, and holds Cubby at gunpoint, berating him for being so obvious; it is then revealed that Shaker is the mastermind behind the kidnapping and Maris is his girlfriend.
Tom agrees to the FBI's instructions for delivering the ransom. Receiving a phone call from Shaker, who is concealing his identity through an electronic voice distortion device, Tom follows his instructions. He meets Cubby in a New Jersey quarry. Shaker indicated that Cubby would give Tom an address where Sean could be picked up in exchange for the money, but when Cubby appears ignorant of these instructions and simply demands the cash, Tom refuses to hand it over. The FBI sends a helicopter after Cubby and Cubby opens fire. FBI marksmen kill Cubby before he can reveal Sean's location.
Shaker sets up another ransom drop. Angered that the FBI followed him instead of the money and killed his only lead, Tom insists on taking the money without being tracked. Realizing the first drop was a setup and there is no guarantee that Sean will come back alive, Tom goes on the television news and offers the ransom as a bounty. The only way for the kidnappers to save themselves is to return his son, in which case he will withdraw the bounty and drop all charges.
Despite the pleadings of Kate and FBI Special Agent Lonnie Hawkins (Lindo), Tom sticks to his plan, believing it is the best chance of having Sean returned. Shaker lures Kate to a meeting where he assaults her and tells her to pay the ransom or Sean will die. Upon seeing Kate's bruises, Tom responds by increasing the bounty to $4,000,000. Shaker calls Tom and demands to be paid. Tom replies that Sean must be returned or else the kidnappers will be hunted down. Tom hears Sean's voice screaming for his father. Shaker fires a shot heard over the phone before the call cuts off, leaving Tom and Kate believing their son is dead.
Shaker forms a new plan; he will kill Clark (Schreiber) and Miles (Handler), pretend to rescue Sean and claim the bounty for himself and Maris. He calls in a possible kidnapping to the NYPD, requesting backup. He then flashes his badge and gun at Clark and Miles, who realize he has betrayed them. Clark tries running Shaker over with his van, but Shaker fatally shoots him. He then kills Miles, making it look as though Miles shot first. Maris, trying to back out of the plan, shoots Shaker in the shoulder. Before she can fire again, Shaker kills her and re-enters the apartment just before a SWAT team charges in, finding a wounded Shaker sitting next to Sean.
Hawkins takes Tom and Kate to the scene of Sean's rescue. Tom thanks Shaker, who is being hospitalized. Hawkins takes Tom to Maris' body, where he recognizes her.
Shaker appears at the Mullen penthouse to receive the reward, claiming he wants to avoid publicity. As Tom writes a check for him, Sean recognizes Shaker's voice and begins to wet himself in terror. Seeing Sean's horrified reaction and hearing Shaker speak the same phrase the kidnapper did, Tom realizes who Shaker is. Tom gives Shaker the check with a false signature, but Shaker realizes that Tom is on to him. Shaker threatens to kill everyone in the house, but Tom convinces him to take him hostage and go to the bank so Tom can wire the money to Shaker's account. Shaker agrees, threatening to re-kidnap and murder Sean at a later date if Tom attempts a double-cross. En route, Shaker orders Tom to ready his private jet. Tom fakes a call to his pilot, actually calling Hawkins, whom Tom manages to tell covertly that the kidnapper is with him.
Cops converge on Tom and Shaker outside the bank. Shaker opens fire, shooting both officers. Tom lunges at Shaker, grabbing his gun. Tom throws Shaker through a store window and when they emerge, they are surrounded by armed policemen. Shaker draws his back-up revolver from an ankle holster. Tom and Hawkins fire first, killing Shaker. The film closes as Hawkins stops the police from arresting Tom.
- Mel Gibson as Tom Mullen
- Rene Russo as Kate Mullen
- Brawley Nolte as Sean Mullen
- Gary Sinise as Det. Jimmy Shaker
- Delroy Lindo as FBI Special Agent Lonnie Hawkins
- Lili Taylor as Maris Conner
- Liev Schreiber as Clark Barnes
- Donnie Wahlberg as Cubby Barnes
- Evan Handler as Miles Roberts
- Paul Guilfoyle as FBI Director Stan Wallace
- José Zúñiga as David Torres
- Dan Hedaya as Jackie Brown
- John Ortiz as Roberto
- David Vadim as an NYPD Officer
During filming, Mel Gibson had appendicitis and had to have an operation.
The movie has a 77% rating from Rotten Tomatoes. Critic Roger Ebert gave the movie three stars out of four, saying "Gibson gives an interesting performance, showing a man trying to think his way out of a crisis, and Sinise makes a good foil: Here are two smart men playing a game with deadly stakes."
Awards and nominations
1997 ASCAP Film and Television Music Awards
- Won - Top Box Office Film
1997 Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror Films (Saturn Awards)
- Nominated - Best Action/Adventure/Thriller Film
1997 Golden Globe Awards
- Nominated - Best Actor - Motion Picture Drama — Mel Gibson
1997 Image Awards
- Nominated - Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture — Delroy Lindo
1997 Young Artist Awards
- Nominated - Best Performance in a Feature Film - Supporting Young Actor — Brawley Nolte
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