I was initially fearful for selecting Mel Gibson for Their Best Role; as we all well know, if there's an opinion to be had on the Internet, there's someone else perfectly willing to be unhappy about it. But in this particular case, the fact that there are several worthy performances to choose from speaks to this actor's popularity and range. Despite his notorious off-screen behavior, or at least prior to it, Mel has been the go-to guy for roguish charm for over thirty years and forty films.
So, try not to hold it against me when I decide that his vengeful side (as seen in the Mad Max films, Payback, The Patriot and this weekend's Edge of Darkness), his charm (What Women Want, Chicken Run) and his vulnerability (the first Lethal Weapon, Signs) meshed best in Ron Howard's 1996 thriller, Ransom.
(Besides, he's got two Oscars to comfort him for Braveheart's absence here.)
His Tom Mullen is a successful airline mogul who's subjected to the whims of his son's kidnappers after a science fair in Central Park leaves him missing, and Tom's desperation first leads to unwavering obedience and then an unimaginable maneuver to call them out. Yes, we might now mock Gibson's hysterical demand over the phone that the criminals give him back his son -- much in the same way that Harrison Ford wants back his family/plane/career -- but, as seen below, it's an effectively emotional moment in context, the ultimate example of a desperate man with everything to lose finding himself up against a villain (Gary Sinise) who has everything to gain.
We witness early on the wily charms and ambition that would've helped him climb the ranks to a Manhattan penthouse and an all-smiles home life, and we can see how that ambition could result in a federal investigation regarding potential bribery. As his wife (Rene Russo) puts it, he better be willing to pay for their son's life if he's willing to pay for his company's future, and in the face of such an ordeal, we see a motivated man humbled by his circumstances, and it's as torn and troubled a role as any that Gibson has played.
Naturally, though, we love it most when Mel gets his man, and by the time that Tom turns the tables on the kidnappers by offering the private ransom as a public reward, the quick thinking and endless drive that built a considerable empire has now been re-purposed to saving one life and destroying another. (Spoiler alert: He succeeds at both, because he's Mel effin' Gibson.)
While it's easy to marginalize an entire film or performance with a selective adjective or two -- he plays heroic, he plays handsome, etc. -- Ransom gives him the greatest range of both appeal and drive than any other film he's done to date (if by no small margin when compared to those listed up front and those that I've left off). It's a potent combination of movie star magnetism and genuine dramatic chops that I'd care far more to associate with this man's career and image than his off-screen antics.
UPDATE: Please keep your comments on the topic of Gibson's career. This isn't the place for boycott campaigns and such; any off-topic remarks may be removed. Thank you.