Ronin (1998)

R   |    |  Action, Crime, Thriller


Ronin (1998) Poster

A freelancing former U.S. Intelligence Agent tries to track down a mysterious package that is wanted by the Irish and the Russians.


7.3/10
167,619

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  • John Frankenheimer in Ronin (1998)
  • Jean Reno in Ronin (1998)
  • Robert De Niro in Ronin (1998)
  • Robert De Niro and John Frankenheimer in Ronin (1998)
  • Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in Ronin (1998)
  • Robert De Niro and Jean Reno in Ronin (1998)

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10 February 1999 | CuriosityKilledShawn
10
| Brilliance
John Frankenheimer didn't have a lot of credibility in his last few years. His final film was the rather crap Reindeer Games, with Ben Affleck, and in 1996 he gave us the utterly terrible Island Of Doctor Moreau. However, he did do Ronin in 1998, which makes up for absolutely everything.

It is a detachment from glossy, MTV-directed, Hollywood action movies. If you want trash, like Bad Boys 2, then this isn't for you. Ronin returns to the gritty, rustic and deadly serious actioners of the Seventies, much like Frankenheimer's own French Connection 2.

The title refers to Samurai warriors in ancient Japan who were left with no cause, or purpose, if their master was killed. They'd roam the countryside, pretending to be thieves, beggars, even madmen and hiring their skills out to the highest bidder. Much like the lost, wandering freelancers that make up our cast of characters.

Robert De Niro is Sam, an ex-CIA agent (or is he?), who bands together with a ragtag group of similar ex-spies for a "no questions asked" job with what appears to be the IRA. First we have Vincent (the wonderful Jean Reno), as a French agent who knows where to find just about anything you want. Spence (Sean Bean) is a gung-ho SAS dropout who is waaaaay out of his depth and ends up jeopardising the whole mission. Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), an ex-KGB spy who knows his gadgets and another American called Larry (who is rather disposable). All of these men are led by Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), a young Irish woman who answers to Seamus O'Rourke (Jonathan Price), an IRA boss who is in a lot of trouble with his superiors.

Still with me? No? Well I'm gonna continue anyway. The group's mission is to steal a metallic briefcase from the Russian Mafia. The contents of this case are a mystery; all we know is that a lot of people are willing to pay mucho plento to get their hands on it.

As if the set-up wasn't tenuous enough, there is immediately too much suspicion within the group to bear. And the already complicated plot is thrown into endless chaos as double-crosses, double-double-crosses, secrets and lies screw things up in a big, big way.

It sounds tough going, but it's not really. I'll admit I didn't really like Ronin when I first saw it (or the second or third for that matter), but it's one of those movies that creeps back on you. Frankenheimer's direction is so flawless and masterful that every frame of every scene flows effortlessly The acting is so well rehearsed and the cast so well chosen that even in every gesture, idiosyncrasy and subtle glance you can read into the characters's hidden motives. It takes a good number of viewings to decipher Ronin, but when the story is this well done, who cares? Since its release there have been few action films that have come close to its intensity. Some, like Bourne Identity/Supremacy try to emulate its bleak tone, but don't match up. Supremacy has a car chase that was desperate to beat Ronin's, but is far too flashy.

That's also the ace up it's sleeve. About 80 minutes into the film, the second car chase is a juggernaut of film-making. Never before and probably never again for a long, long time, has there been a car chase so completely mental. No Michael Bay 1000 cuts a second, no slow-motion, no stunts silhouetted against the sunset, just sheer, relentless adrenaline, as DeNiro and Reno tear up the streets of Paris. It's the centrepiece of the movie and a perfect example of what REAL action film-making is.

Elia Cmiral's score is the other utterly perfect aspect of the movie. Simultaneously lonely, seductive and mysterious, it surely is one of the best themes ever and anyone with sense would go out and buy the soundtrack CD right away.

Ronin is perfection from beginning to end, from Frankenheimer's strong, imposing direction to David Mamet's script, riddled with cryptic dialogue and double-meanings.

No one can deny Ronin's importance as a real action picture. No one can watch crap like xXx, or 6 Fast 6 Furious, and claim Ronin to be a bad movie. It has enough, maybe too much, integrity and intelligence to shame anything that comes even halfway close. If you're sick of action flicks, or films in general, where the audience just sits there passively and is fed information, then Ronin is the cure.

It may sound like a bizarre comparison, but it's on par with Lost Highway, as one of those movies you have to figure out in your own damn time.

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Did You Know?

Trivia

The talk about the "man in the wheelchair" is referencing the book "The Bourne Identity" (1980) by Robert Ludlum. The Man in the Wheelchair was M. Chernak, a mercenary broker who Jason Bourne killed.


Quotes

Larry: How did they finally get to you?
Sam: They gave me a grasshopper.
Larry: What's a grasshopper?
Sam: Let's see, that's, uh, two part gin, two part brandy, one part Creme de Menthe...


Goofs

During one of the car chases, the first shots of the Audi S8's interior show Audi's late 1990s-early 2000s steering wheel (consisting of Audi's four-ring logo in silver and surrounded by a circle). In later shots of the same chase, the steering wheel is that of Audi's earlier 1990s design (Audi's four-rings which have been enlarged to fill more of the steering wheel, lacking both the surrounding circle and the silver finish to the rings).


Alternate Versions

The print of the opening titles, starting "In Feudal Japan..." before the film title "Ronin" appears on-screen, on all UK DVD releases from the 11th October 2004 release does not have the original large font that exists on the original theatrical print and TV broadcasts. Instead it is much smaller and does not feel correct especially when one knows the movie and is not consistent with the font titles used throughout the film and the end credits. The 2000/2001 UK DVD MGM original 1 disc release, catalogue number 15745DVD (EAN 5050070000207) does oontain the correct font. All subsequent UK media releases do not contain the correct font (including the Definitive Edition in steelbook packaging!)


Soundtracks

Les Anges dans nos campagnes
(uncredited)
Written by Traditional
Performed by Nice Carolers

Storyline

Plot Summary


Synopsis (WARNING: Spoilers)


Genres

Action | Crime | Thriller

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