REVIEW: Ransom (1974)

ransom_posterIn the years between playing James Bond and his 1980s career resurgence, Sean Connery starred in a wide array of dramas, thrillers, and action films – many of which have languished in obscurity. Ransom, aka The Terrorists, is one such half-forgotten film: an airport-set thriller that pits a stern Scandinavian officer against a calculating hostage-taker on a grounded airliner.

Colonel Nils Tahlvik (Connery) is supervising his government’s response to the kidnapping of the British ambassador when a second terrorist group takes over a jet plane at the national airport. The hostage takers, led by the calculating Ray Petrie (Ian McShane), want the kidnappers delivered to their aeroplane – otherwise they will start executing civilians. Working against the conciliatory policies of his own and the British governments, Tahlvik races against the clock to rescue the hostages and bring both terrorist groups to justice.

Ransom, released in North America as The Terrorists, is a British thriller shot on location in Norway and directed by Finnish filmmaker Caspar Wrede. It is strangely set in “Scandinavia”, a fictitious nation inserted for no discernable purpose. It is shot and performed in a remarkably grounded and realistic fashion, without any hyperbole or flashiness that is usually presented in such thrillers. As a result it feels rather quaint and not particularly cinematic; similar production values could be found in a fair amount of British television of the period.

The matter-of-fact delivery and style lead the film to stand or fall on the basis of its plot. It gets straight into the action without fuss, and its various complications and surprises constantly feel low-key. It is satisfying to watch, but in a manner one is satisfied from observing a well-oiled machine. Writer Paul Wheeler shows off plenty of intelligence and efficiency, but not enough depth of character. The main players seem left to be fleshed out by their respective actors alone. That creates a failure in the film, sadly, since Connery’s heart simply does not seem to be in it for Ransom. His performance is workmanlike, and feels bored. It comes it sharp contrast to Ian McShane’s energised and vital acting as hostage-taker Petrie. Both men boast significant screen presence, but it’s only McShane that really puts in visible effort. There is a bleak charm in McShane’s work that lifts him – and his character – higher than the surrounding movie.

The script does boast a few impressive developments. Spoiling them would, of course, lessen the enjoyment of seeing the film for the first time, so suffice to say that the film gets more complex as it goes and things that initially feel like poor writing turn out to be deliberate surprises. As noted above, the dry and technical delivery robs these moments of much of their potential, but do lend a certain entertainment value. It is an excellent fit for a lazy Sunday afternoon: pleasing its audience enough to be worth the time spent in watching it, but also inessential enough to be viewed with one eye on a smartphone or newspaper. Fans of Ian McShane will appreciate seeing him not only pre-Deadwood but pre-Lovejoy. Fans of Sean Connery have a lot of better performances from which to choose.

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