A Public Ransom – Review (Spoiler Free)

Public Ransom PosterAn intriguing premise gets lost amongst weak acting and an overly slow pace.


What would you do if you were to find a poster that’s apparently drawn by a young girl who’s asking for help after being kidnapped. There’s a phone number to call scrawled on the bottom and a crayon drawn sketch of the girl. Possibly it is a prank, maybe it’s part of an experiment… regardless you would most probably take it to the police just to be safe. But what if it ends up in the hands of an amoral writer who really is more interested in getting a  story out of the experience than worrying about whether there really is a little girl?

That’s how A Public Ransom begins and I was very interested in seeing just where it took that premise, however I was left disappointed. There is an incredibly rich piece of material here in order to conduct a potentially fascinating character study, however if you are going to write an unlikeable protagonist who makes questionable decisions then they absolutely must be interesting. Here though our protagonist is rarely anything but plain boring. Scene after scene goes by filled with the sound of Carlyle Edwards’ voice and rarely is any insight gained into the character beyond that he is an unpleasant, deplorable person. I wish that I could be invested in his journey but unfortunately he doesn’t have one, the character just stays the same throughout and you quickly find yourself not caring about what happens to him.

ransom-still-1

On the more positive side, director Pablo D’Stair sets about capturing some interesting angles and produces multiple shots that engage with the black and white/sepia tone, proving that the colouring decision was no simple afterthought. The acknowledged influences of Bresson, Fassbinder, and Jarmusch are evident throughout, however the film does loose control with these as it goes along; we see far too many barely lit shots of Edwards smoking a cigarette etc. Visually this film has its commendable moments, but it does lack restraint.

So as much as I liked the concept and the direction that this one attempted to go in, the end result just didn’t come together properly. The often unnatural dialogue helps push the actors towards more theatrical performances, an effect which doesn’t work both in terms of the attempts at naturalism and because it means that Carlyle Edwards overacts to the point where he occasionally verges on pantomime. The handling of the little girl in the crayon drawn poster is actually very effective; there is a haunting quality to it which sticks in the mind well after the film has ended. But whilst the poster’s presentation shows some initiative and experimentation, the rest of the film is shot so statically that it feels amateurish. A Public Ransom really tries and it will be interesting to see what D’Stair tackles next, but ultimately it’s one that is rather difficult to sit through to the end.

Summary:

What is the film’s greatest strength? The ideas which it plays with concerning morality and the role of the writer.

Its greatest weakness? The acting just pips other concerns to the post

Would I see it again? No, once was enough with this one.

Scrawl out your thoughts in the comment box below!

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13 comments

  1. Great review James! This is still on my watch list, I really just need to find the time to get to it. It seems you still liked it more than Eric though!

    1. Thanks Zoë! Haha, well there really isn’t much here for Eric I have to say! I must say that it did get quite tough to make it through this one, but I appreciate what they set out to do – which is why I’m a little kinder than our good friend was!

      1. Yep, no boobs or anything like that… I cannot see how it would hold his attention.

        Hmmmmm… this worries me. I was going to start it the other day, I even set the hour and forty minutes aside for it, but then my browser collapsed on me. We have RIDICULOUS internets here, so I did not attempt to buffer it again.

        I will be sure to look out for the points you have mentioned, and see if I agree when I finally get to it!

        Where are you the last couple of months? You are here so sporadically!!!

        1. Exactly!

          Oh I know that feeling, I had horrific internet a month or so ago – it’s so frustrating!

          Sounds good, I’ll be interested to read your take on this one.

          I know, these last few months have been crazy busy. Massive amounts of work as well as moving out from my flat. Everything is settling down again now though so I should be here regularly again!

          1. We have slow internets here. Meh.

            Is that what is going on? I see you so seldom I almost have a stroke when a post pops up! Seems they are becoming a little more frequent again! YAY I am so glad! You do sound like you are settling again!

          2. Haha well thank you for saying so!
            Yes, I am now aiming to get a post out every few days and really pick up my blogging again. I really appreciate people like yourself who have stuck around despite my inactivity! Thank you very much for that.

          3. Always a pleasure! Really looking forward to seeing you around more!

            That’s me – so loyal! 😛

          4. Likewise! It will be good to read more of your posts again!

            Haha :p

    2. theipc · · Reply

      🙂

  2. theipc · · Reply

    Hey! Nice work!! You did a MUCH better job detailing this than I did – but that’s always the case….!

    1. Thank you, although you are much too kind! I loved your take on this one, and Pablo’s response to it!

  3. mrheslop · · Reply

    My dad said he once saw a passing double-decker schoolbus with a sign in the window which read “we’ve been kidnapped”. Obviously it was a joke, yet wasn’t he technically obliged to call the police? It’s an interesting concept, so it’s a shame that it doesn’t seem to have been fully exploited by this film. I agree with what you wrote about unlikeable protagonists. If they’re not interesting, there’s really no point in letting them lead a film (or a novel).

    1. It is a really interesting situation and I would love to see a film fully explore it. Yeah, this one is seriously uninteresting which lets the whole film slide.

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