×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

Ronin

"Ronin" reps a pleasurable throwback to the sort of gritty, low-tech international thriller that was a staple of the 1960s.

With:
Sam - Robert De Niro Vincent - Jean Reno Deirdre - Natascha McElhone Gregor - Stellan Skarsgard Spence - Sean Bean Larry - Skipp Sudduth Jean-Pierre - Michael Lonsdale Dapper Gent - Jan Triska Seamus - Jonathan Pryce Mikhi - Feodor Atkine Natacha Kirilova - Katarina Witt Sergi - Bernard Bloch

Ronin” reps a pleasurable throwback to the sort of gritty, low-tech international thriller that was a staple of the 1960s. Even though the characters are virtual cutouts and the story is ultimately without much meaning or resonance, the film offers enough potent action, intriguing shifting loyalties and scenic French locations to hold the interest; all the picture lacks is a world-weary, existential ennui to take its place alongside the works of Jean-Pierre Melville and any film starring Jean Gabin or Lino Ventura. MGM should reap decent returns in a relatively open field for actioners in late September, while significantly better coin lies in wait overseas.

Although set in the present and dramatically aided at times by such modern devices as cellphones and sophisticated tracking equipment, film has the feel of an earlier era, one close to that of director John Frankenheimer’s own “French Connection II.” In fact, pic is virtually defined by the stubble on the rugged actors’ faces, the yellow French cigarettes they smoke, their stubborn professionalism and a rueful recognition of the time when they were all young men.

Beginning on a shadowy Montmartre street as the scruffy Sam (Robert De Niro) arrives for an appointment at a seedy bar, plot snaps to attention as Irish ringleader Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) presides over a planning meeting for an ambush at which the ad hoc group of five men will attempt to retrieve a mysterious briefcase from some criminals.

Working strictly for the money without knowing who is hiring them or the identity of their targets, the gang consists of the usual cross-section of specialists: American expert strategist Sam, French coordinator Vincent (Jean Reno), German electronics and surveillance whiz Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), Yank driver Larry (Skipp Sudduth) and British military vet and weapons adviser Spence (Sean Bean), although the latter is quickly booted out and, surprisingly, never reappears.

Once again, the most treacherous characters on the post-Cold War European playing field are Irish terrorists and the Russian Mafia, although ideological issues could not be more irrelevant. Throughout the fast-moving yarn, it’s only a matter of who’s the most clever and who can lay final claim to the all-important briefcase, a genuine McGuffin whose contents are unknown.

The first major set piece, a nocturnal face-off by the Seine that erupts into a huge shootout, is excitingly handled, whereupon the action shifts to the South of France; throughout, there is the sense that this would have been one groovy shoot to be a part of, based on the uniformly inviting settings. A reconnaissance mission to the Majestic Hotel in Cannes, in which Sam and Deirdre ingeniously scheme to photo-graph their prey while posing as tourists, stands out as one of the film’s best scenes, as does an exciting chase scene along twisty mountain roads and the narrow streets of Old Nice, leading to the briefcase’s eventual capture.

But the trusted Gregor betrays the gang by making off with the valise himself, setting off a new pursuit that leads to Arles, the site of a colossal gunbattle in the ancient Roman arena, through the rugged canyons of the area, and finally back to Paris for one more ambitious car chase and then a big finale at an ice show where the presence of a sniper revives echoes of Frankenheimer’s “The Manchurian Candidate.”

All the characters here are solitary types, hired guns who say they are in it only for the money but undoubtedly have complicated pasts and hidden agendas. For his part, Sam is an apparent former CIA officer whose current relationship with the agency is unstated, while Vincent may have similar roots in Euro intelligence. Or maybe not. Partly out of necessity, the men are tight-lipped types not given to chewing the fat, but some economical musings on their part would have given the film what it sorely lacks, a sense of humanity and life experience behind these half-burned-out cases.

The cast certainly includes actors who could have supplied the characters with deeper feeling, had any been present in the script by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz, the latter a pseudonym for David Mamet, who came aboard for a rewrite. De Niro and Gallic star Reno are well matched, with the weight of having seen and done it all showing everywhere on their faces except in their eyes, which retain impudent, amused twinkles. De Niro will never be an action star on the level of Bruce Willis or Harrison Ford, but he carries “Ronin” exceedingly well and could have done even more with the part were the film more ambitious and three-dimensional. A major scene in which the injured Sam, looking in a mirror, instructs a man how to extract a bullet from his gut will have many viewers squirming.

Skarsgard is chillingly good as the cagiest poker player of the bunch, while McElhone is alluringly mysterious as the organizer who dispenses orders received from the occasionally glimpsed mastermind played by Jonathan Pryce.

As far as the chases are concerned, Frankenheimer goes to the well once too often; a high-speed pursuit through Paris, which includes a reckless excursion through tunnels that will immediately call to mind the circumstances of Princess Diana’s death, is overly chaotic and too full of jump cuts to create much sense of continuity or tension. Otherwise, pic is well-organized from a visual p.o.v., although the ease with which the characters sometimes manage to find their prey can be confounding.

Stunts and heavy-duty action, which play a major role in the film’s commercial appeal, are expertly pulled off. Tony Gibbs’ editing is sharp, while Robert Fraisse’s rugged lensing contributes significantly to the production’s strongly masculine appeal. Title refers to the 47 ronin of Japanese legend, samurai who became solitary agents wandering the land after their leader was killed. But a written pre-credits explanation of this reference looks tacky and seems unnecessary given the verbal telling of the ronin tale later on.

Ronin

(ACTION THRILLER)

Production: An MGM release of a United Artists presentation of an FGM Entertainment production. Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr. Executive producer, Paul Kelmenson. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Screenplay, J.D. Zeik, Richard Weisz, story by Zeik.

Crew: Camera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Robert Fraisse; editor, Tony Gibbs; music, Elia Cmiral; production designer, Michael Z. Hanan; art director, Gerard Viard; set decorator, Robert Le Corre; costume designer, May Routh; sound (DTS), Bernard Bats; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Mike Le-Mare; physical stunt coordinator, Joe Dunne; car stunt coordinator, Jean-Claude Lagniez; car stunt technical coordinator, Patrick Ronchin; associate producer, Ethel Winant; assistant director, Michel Cheyko; casting, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich, Margot Capelier. Reviewed at MGM screening room, Santa Monica, Aug. 27, 1998. (In Venice Film Festival --- Nights and Stars.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 118 MIN.

With: Sam - Robert De Niro Vincent - Jean Reno Deirdre - Natascha McElhone Gregor - Stellan Skarsgard Spence - Sean Bean Larry - Skipp Sudduth Jean-Pierre - Michael Lonsdale Dapper Gent - Jan Triska Seamus - Jonathan Pryce Mikhi - Feodor Atkine Natacha Kirilova - Katarina Witt Sergi - Bernard BlochCamera (Deluxe color, Panavision widescreen), Robert Fraisse; editor, Tony Gibbs; music, Elia Cmiral; production designer, Michael Z. Hanan; art director, Gerard Viard; set decorator, Robert Le Corre; costume designer, May Routh; sound (DTS), Bernard Bats; sound designer/supervising sound editor, Mike LeMare; physical stunt coordinator, Joe Dunne; car stunt coordinator, Jean-Claude Lagniez; car stunt technical coordinator, Patrick Ronchin; associate producer, Ethel Winant; assistant director, Michel Cheyko; casting, Amanda Mackey Johnson, Cathy Sandrich, Margot Capelier. Reviewed at MGM screening room, Santa Monica, Aug. 27, 1998. (In Venice Film Festival -- Nights and Stars.) MPAA Rating: R. Running time: 118 MIN.

More Film

  • Alita Battle Angel

    Box Office: 'Alita: Battle Angel,' 'Lego Movie 2' to Lead President's Day Weekend

    “Alita: Battle Angel” is holding a slim lead ahead of “Lego Movie 2’s” second frame with an estimated four-day take of $29.1 million from 3,790 North American locations. “Lego Movie 2: The Second Part,” meanwhile, is heading for about $25 million for a domestic tally of around $66 million. The two films lead the pack [...]

  • Marianne Rendon, Matt Smith, Ondi Timoner

    Robert Mapplethorpe Biopic Teams Talks about 'Fast and Furious' Filming

    Thursday night’s New York premiere of the Matt Smith-led biopic “Mapplethorpe” took place at Cinépolis Chelsea, just steps from the Chelsea Hotel where the late photographer Robert Mapplethorpe once lived — but director Ondi Timoner had no sense of that legacy when she first encountered him in a very different context. “When I was ten [...]

  • Bruno GanzSwiss Film Award in Geneva,

    Bruno Ganz, Star of 'Downfall' and 'Wings of Desire,' Dies at 77

    Bruno Ganz, the Swiss actor best known for dramatizing Adolf Hitler’s final days in 2004’s “Downfall,” has died. He was 77. Ganz died at his home in Zurich on Friday, his representatives told media outlets. The cause of death was reportedly colon cancer. More Reviews Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink' Film [...]

  • Steve Bannon appears in The Brink

    Sundance Film Review: Stephen K. Bannon in 'The Brink'

    Stephen K. Bannon drinks Kombucha (who knew?), the fermented tea beverage for health fanatics that tastes like…well, if they ever invented a soft drink called Germs, that’s what Kombucha tastes like. In “The Brink,” Alison Klayman’s fly-on-the-wall, rise-and-fall-and-rise-of-a-white-nationalist documentary, Bannon explains that he likes Kombucha because it gives him a lift; he drinks it for [...]

  • Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith

    Walt Disney Archives Founder Dave Smith Dies at 78

    Walt Disney Archives founder Dave Smith, the historian who spent 40 years cataloging and preserving the company’s legacy of entertainment and innovation, died Friday in Burbank, Calif. He was 78. Smith served as Disney’s chief archivist from 1970 to 2010. He was named a Disney Legend in 2007 and served as a consultant to the [...]

  • Oscar OScars Placeholder

    Cinematographers Praise Academy Reversal: 'We Thank You for Your Show of Respect'

    Cinematographers who fought the decision to curtail four Oscar presentations have praised the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences for reversing the exclusions. “We thank you for your show of respect for the hard-working members of the film community, whose dedication and exceptional talents deserve the public recognition this reversal now allows them to enjoy,” [...]

  • Peter Parker and Miles Morales in

    'Spider-Man: Into the Spiderverse' Colored Outside the Lines

    The well-worn superhero genre and one of its best-known icons are unlikely vehicles for creating a visually fresh animated feature. But Sony Pictures Animation’s work on the Oscar-nominated animated feature “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” shows throwing out the rule book and letting everyone play in the creative sandbox can pay off big. “I think we [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content