This is the 3rd article in the Most Enthralling Story Conflicts and Dilemmas series where I cover the story conflicts that I wish I’d come up with. The first two are:
Part 3 is features the conflict from the 1996 Ron Howard movie Ransom starring Mel Gibson. Please note that there might be some spoilers.
Businessman Tom Mullen (Mel Gibson)’s son is kidnapped and is asked to pay $2,000,000. He does, but something goes wrong and he’s asked for $4,000,000. Tom realizes that the kidnappers had no intention of delivering the boy in the first place, so he comes with a brilliant yet risky plan:
He gets on the news with the money but declares that he’ll pay it to whoever brings the kidnappers. His wife goes ballistic, so do the kidnappers.
Why This Conflict Is Different:
This is one of my favorite stories, and story dilemmas because unlike most conflicts, this is created by the protagonist.
In The Ledge, the girl’s husband presents the protagonist with an impossible situation.
In Jagten (The Hunt), it all starts when a little girl lies.
Now here are the two ways things can go for Tom:
1) He was right. This will help him get his son back.
2) He was wrong. He just caused his son’s death.
He’s led to believe, for a moment, that it is the latter, resulting in a very powerful performance moment for Mel Gibson. But then he gets what he aimed for: The kidnappers start fighting between themselves. And their leader (Gary Sinise) decides to deliver the boy, and get the money as the hero.
Of course things don’t turn out the way he plans, but you should see the movie for the climax.
Ransom is based on an idea from a TV show from 1954, which was later developed into a movie 1955, though I don’t know if the 1955 father offered the money as a bounty.
Ransom is a film that shows the way you tell your story is just as important as your idea. Offering the money to those who deliver the kidnappers on live TV is a pretty good twist. Then you have great actors (Mel Gibson, Rene Russo, Gary Sinise, Lili Taylor, Live Schreiber, Delroy Lindo) to portray mostly grey characters, and they were directed by Ron Howard. But Howard and the actors wouldn’t have had that much to work with without the story (by Cyril Hume, Richard Maibaum, Richard Price, Alexander Ignon).
The “twist” is supported by new information about the characters, character development, relationship between the protagonist and his family, relationships between the kidnappers, the fact that the leader (Gary Sinise) is actually a cop…
What makes Ransom enthralling is not just the little twist, but how the characters handle the situation before, during and after that.
But the conflict raises the bar really high, and the main character dies an emotional death (just like P.J. Reece’s story structure advices that he should) during the wait. Did he save him? Did he kill him? And he is alone, with no one to support his decision.
I recommend the movie as an exciting way to spend 2 hours. But I also recommend it from a storytelling perspective.
What would you do if you were Tom Mullen?