on March 21, 2006
The definition of the Japanese word ronin describes it as a samurai who has lost his master from the ruin of or the fall of his master. John Frankenheimer (with some final draft help with the script from David Mamet) takes this notion of a masterless samurai and brings to it a post-Cold War setting and sensibility that more than pay homage to the great stories and film of the ronin. One particular story about ronin that Frankenheimer references in detail is the classic story of the 47 Ronin. Ronin shows that in the latter-stages of his career, Frankenheimer was still the master of the political/spy-thriller genre. He infuses the film with a real hard-edge and was able to mix together both intelligence and energy in both the quieter and action-packed sequences in the film.
The film begins quietly with the introduction of the characters to be involved. We meet each individual in this quiet 10-minute scene that shows Frankenheimer's skill as a director more than Michael Bay can in two-hours of mind-numbing action. Robert De Niro as one of the two American mercenaries (or contractors) instantly becomes the focal point for everyone. His casual, but attentive reconnoitering of the Paris bar where the first meet occurs helps build tension without being overt. It's with the introduction of Jean Reno as the Frenchman in the group that we get the buddy-film dynamic as De Niro and Reno quickly create a believable camaraderie born of the times for such men during and after the Cold War. The rest of the cast is rounded out by an excellent and high-energy turn from Sean Bean as an English contractor who might not be all that he brags to be. The other American in the group was played by Skipp Sudduth who in his own understated way more than kept up with the high-caliber of actors around him. Finishing off and adding the darker and seedier aspects of the cast were Stellan Skarsgard as a former Eastern Bloc (maybe ex-KGB) operative and Jonathan Pryce as a wanted IRA commander wanted by all. The only break in all the male testosterone in the film was able played by the beautiful, yet tough Natasha McElhone. Like Sudduth, McElhone more than keeps up and matches acting skills with the likes of De Niro, Reno and Skarsgard.
The film moves from the meeting of the group to the actual operation which brought all these disparate characters together. Taking a page from Hitchcock, Frankenheimer and Mamet introduces what would become the film's MacGuffin. A MacGuffin being a plot device which helps motivates each character of its importance and yet we're left to believe only that the item is important without ever finding out why. The MacGuffin in Ronin ends up being a silver case which the IRA terrorists, the Russian Mob and seemingly every intelligence agency in Europe wants to get their hands on. It's up to De Niro and his group to steal the case from another party and this was where Frankenheimer's skill in seemlessly blending spy-thriller and action film shows. From the set-up of the team and their plans, to a near double-cross during an arms deal to the actual operation to take the case, Ronin begins to move at a clipped and tension-filled pace. There's no overly extraneous dialogue. Mamet's script-doctoring fleshes out the story and adds a sense and feel of intelligent professionalism to the characters. Outside of the Bean's braggart Englishman who gets his commeuppance from DeNiro's strict professional, everyone in the group had a skill to contribute to the operation and all did it well and believable.
The action sequences mostly involved car chases through the narrow streets of Nice, France to the metropolitan thoroughfares and tunnels of Paris. Frankenheimer shines in creating and directing these sequences. Sequences which he'd decided against the use of CGI. Using what he'd learned and perfected from his own past as a former race car driver and from his own classic film Grand Prix, Frankenheimer used real life cars and drove them through real (albeit choreographed) traffic to give the sequences that sense of reality and speed that one couldn't get with CGI. The car chase scene within the Paris thoroughfare tunnel against traffic has to go down as one of the best car chase put on film. I and those I saw the film with were on the edge of our seats as both protagonists and antagonists weaved their way through Parisian traffic at high-speed and gunfire. The crashes caused by this car chase looked believable and horrific yet the audience doesn't glance away from the screen. With just abit of help from second unit directors Luc Etienne and Michel Cheyko, Frankenheimer pretty much did most of the filming of the car chases. At times being in the car itself and doing some of the driving.
The story itself, after all the characterizations and high-energy, tense action sequences, was really bare bones and in itself its own MacGuffin. The story just becomes a prop device to help show the mercenaries' special sense of honor in regards to working with people who might've been enemies in the past and the murky world they now live in after the collapse of the black and white sensibility that was the Cold War. One little bit of trivia that I found interesting was the fact that Ronin included quite abit of actors who portrayed past James Bond villains: Sean Bean (Janus), Jonathan Pryce (Carver) and Michael Lonsdale (Drax).
In the end, Ronin became the last great film from a great director. I don't count Reindeer Games as anything but Frankenheimer picking up a check and the studio dabbling overmuch in the final look and feel of that film. Frankenheimer's Ronin is a blend of smart dialogue, hard-edged characters, and tense-filled action that he manages to blend together to make a fine and intelligent film. The story may not have made real sense in the end, but the journey the audience takes with DeNiro, Reno and McElhone's character in getting there made for a great time for all.
on December 29, 2009
This is one of my favorite movies. Unfortunately, MGM decided to pull a fast one and release a lobotomized Blu-ray version.
First of all, it uses old-school, low bitrate MPEG-2 encoding (so much for the the "superior" picture quality of Blu-Ray).
Fine, I could have lived with that... except for the fact that, as others have mentioned, the Blu-ray release contains absolutely no special features at all! None. Zip. Zilch. Nada. Not even the stuff on the DVD release! WTF!?!?
I suppose MGM will eventually come out with a "Special Edition" Blu-Ray with the missing features, expecting us to also purchase that. No Way!!!
I'm returning this for a refund. I've spent quite a bit of money buying stuff off of Amazon over the years, and this is the first time I'm returning anything. It should tell you how ticked off I am about this.
Also, Amazon really needs to segregate the reviews for the Blu-ray release from the DVD reviews. It's sometimes very difficult to wade through 100s of reviews to find out if the Blu-ray release is worth buying over the DVD release.
I actually saw Ronin in the theater when I was in high school. I had no idea what to expect, but I ended up loving it. It had such a great sense of style, it didn't spoon feed the plot to you, and featured fantastic action scenes. To this day it has my favorite car chase scenes.
So when I heard it was coming out on Blu-Ray, I was excited. I love the high definition picture and high quality sound that Blu-Ray offers, as well as the ability to fit those and a slew of extras on a single disc.
Unfortunately, MGM/Fox decided to treat this great movie poorly for its Blu-Ray debut. The picture quality is improved, but not up to par with the more impressive Blu-Ray catalog releases we've seen so far. It is a single-layered release (using only 25GB of the 50GB available on a dual-layered disc), and uses a compression codec (MPEG-2) that has largely been abandoned in favor of better ones.
Worse, all the great extras from both DVDs are absent from the Blu-Ray. Even the original DVD from 1999(!) had a commentary and alternate ending. The 2006 DVD had those, a documentary, and a bunch of featurettes.
All in all, this Blu-Ray takes one baby-step forward, and several big steps backward. This disc is behind the DVD that is 10 years its senior. Sadly I'll be waiting to purchase this until MGM treats this movie with the respect it deserves (the respect they gave it 3 years ago).
on July 25, 2000
When I first heard about Ronin on TV, I knew I had to go see it. I was not disappointed. Great action sequences (including two of the best car chases in film), a solid plot, and outstanding acting by Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, and Jonathan Pryce made this movie my favorite. I have personally seen Ronin seven times, and each time I am amazed by the quality of the film.
There's more to this movie than the action sequences, and it recalls the days when action movies were not just pure action all the time. When I first saw the samurai minature sequence, I thought it was uncessary and boring, but after time, I have come to think it an interesting and important part of the story. Some people might find Ronin a bit boring at times, but it has a strong plotline that is unpredicatble, and just enough action without going overboard.
This DVD doesn't have many extra features at all, although I absolutely loved the director's commentary. Otherwise, it's sorely lacking in features, despite the alternate ending. I wish that MGM would have released this as a special edition - it would have been my favorite DVD of all time - still, I highly recommend it because Ronin is such an awesome movie.
on May 18, 1999
This movie is an instant classic for Robert De Niro and Jean Reno fans. Natascha McElhone is a lovely dazzler combining a sensuous understated beauty with a journeyman actor's presence. With a simple look or a roll of her eyes she speaks volumes. De Niro has never been tougher or more compelling as the everyman, Sam. He reminds me of Bogart in his grittier roles. Jean Reno is quickly becomming one of my favorite actors. He is a man's man with a sincere delivery and deep sad eyes. He also adds the aura of the world weary but stoic Frenchman to the mix. I love French and the bits of French dialogue interspersed in the movie resonate with wryness. The interplay and rapport between the Jean Reno and Robert DeNiro characters plays true and is one of my favorite things about this relatively realistic action film. Frankenheimer has a superb eye for detail and the cutters have done a marvelous job. This story will keep you on edge for most of its running length. The action scenes are cut in broad swaths that leave you wanting more. Get this film and an Audi S8 while you're at it. You wont be sorry.
on September 26, 2008
Judging from the specs (Japanese/English subs and language) and the cover art (English text but no BBFC rating stamp the way a UK release would have), it looks like this might be the Japanese BD release of 'Ronin,' which has been out for a little while now. I bought it myself for about the same price as this, and I've got to tell you that you may not find it worth it. It's one of Fox's earlier MPEG-2 transfers and looks like most Fox movies of that vintage--slightly gray, slightly fuzzy. It's still a leap above both DVD editions and it certainly doesn't look outright bad by any means...but unless the $45 pricetag means nothing to you, you might want to just wait to see if the eventual U.S. release gets a better treatment.
Edit: Oh, and--again, if this is indeed the Japanese release--no features except for the theatrical trailer (and a few trailers for other Fox releases).
on August 23, 2004
This movie rightfully goes into the roster of classic spy flicks, like NORTH BY NORTHWEST, THE FRENCH CONNECTION, DAY OF THE JACKAL, and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE.
Written by David Mamet (see the 2004 Val Kilmer movie SPARTAN, which Mamet wrote and directed), this is a very understated spy thriller that has great car chases, confused motivations, and cool explosions. It doesn't get any better than that. What really pulls it off, however, is a script that elegantly reflects a sort of post-COLD WAR vacuum in the intelligence world, a situation that the movie has as parallel to the collapsing feudal order in medieval Japan, when wandering ronin samurai moved fluidly in a disintegrating social order (see Kurosawa's YOJIMBO).
There are two car chases in this film that are unbelievable. The direction is just fantastic. The character development--particularly of the protaganist "Sam" and Reno's "Vincent"--is also superb. The reality of the events is shown in the vulnerability DeNiro's character exhibits. Sort of an anti-Rambo.
Even the music is subtle and well done, enhancing the murkiness of the plot. A really elegant film; very well-edited. I rarely give five star reviews for movies, but this is easily one of my favorite movies that I return to again and again.
on April 27, 2000
"Ronin" is director John Frankenheimer's homage to 70s French thrillers. It's got forceful acting, awesome car chase scenes, good shooting, and moody, realistic European locations.
THIS FILM IS FOR YOU IF ... This movie is for you if you like darkish, 70's-style, European-flavored thrillers that balance action with introspection, intelligence, paranoia, and ambiguity. You probably also like La Femme Nikita, The Little Drummer Girl, The Final Option, the novels of John Le Carre, and so on ...
IT'S NOT FOR YOU IF ... Avoid "Ronin" if you're looking for an action movie that is all-American, straightforward, uncomplicated, Hollywood blockbuster style, good guys vs. bad guys, blow-em-up. Go rent Con Air.
on February 15, 1999
If you didn't see it at the movies, then off to the shops you go. You have to buy a projector for your home. This is because, amongst other things, Ronin boasts what are quite simply the best car chase sequences ever. After seeing this movie I rented Bullit in order to compare them. Audi S8 vs Ford Mustang GT? The Audi cannot beat the GT V8's scream, but Bullit lost on all other fronts. For instance, whilst watching Bullit I didn't find my hands gripping the arms of my chair. Watching Ronin, however, induced an irremovable smile on my face and the wish that I, too, had an Audi S8.
In addition to the cameras following the cars, De Niro and Reno post excellent performances and Pryce also portrays his character perfectly. All characters are totally believable, and the plot structure overall is holeproof.
Ronin is one of the few Hollywood films that have a strong British feel to them, and this lack of garish colour and misplaced testosterone gives it the rare professional ambience of a movie that knows precisely where it is going. In other words, the directing is impressively taut.
These points all accumulate, making Ronin the most intelligent action movie to come from Hollywood for a long time - perhaps ever. JM
*** BLU RAY REVIEW ***
For the first 20 minutes of John Frankenheimer's 1998 brilliant chase movie, you look at the BLU RAY box and wonder where the hell is the improvement? At the time they made it, they weren't of course thinking about future formats and their picture quality exposing limitations - they were just thinking about getting the mood right and setting up the plot. Filmed in a dark alley and then a dim French cafe at night, and staying there for quite a while - the opening clarity isn't great and I find that the BLU RAY format only accentuates this - the deficiencies of indoor lighting. But once you get to the daytime scenes that follow, then the fabulous city locations after that and especially to the close-up shots of the actor's faces, things improve dramatically.
And like that other genius caper movie of the Nineties "The Usual Suspects", not only could you not pay for such a stunning and diverse cast now - "Ronin" has admirably stood the test of time. It bears repeated viewing which of course makes it ideal BLU RAY replacement-fodder.
For the most part, I thoroughly enjoyed the picture improvements - Nastasha McElhone's gorgeously huge eyes - De Niro's mole - Jean Reno's stubble - Sean Bean's sweaty brow - it's all there and amplified. And those fantastic car-chases that "Bourne" surely aped... There's even an unintentionally funny moment when Stellan Skarsgard is in his car with a gun and silencer about to trade the silver case to some dodgy type - you can see the lipstick accentuating his lips - its looks comical. And then that famous De Niro scene where he instructs Michael Lonsdale and Jean Reno to surgically remove a Teflon-laced bullet from his stomach without anaesthetic so he can remain conscious throughout and direct them properly - is just priceless (the title of this review is the dialogue De Niro speaks after the operation is over).
But as other reviewers have noted, the big let down is the lack of extras - and especially the absence of the startling brutal alternative ending where Natasha McElhone's Belfast character 'Deirdre' is involved - it's missing - and many thought it a better ending than the one used in cinema's.
And worse than that - there's no insights? I mean if ever a film deserved commentaries and a more than a few making-of features - then it's "Ronin".
Still - a great film - now visually improved - and as wicked a movie as you remember it.
Despite its bare-bones presentation - it's recommended.