By Marc S. Sanders
John Frankenheimer directed the exceptional thriller Ronin, featuring Robert DeNiro and a band of baddies all hired to intercept a mysterious suitcase. The contents are never revealed, and it really doesn’t matter. It’s the pursuit that’s important. Consider this a glossier version of Reservoir Dogs and Pulp Fiction. Not big on exceptional dialogue but huge on top notch car chase action.
Frankenheimer works with a script co-written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet (using a pseudonym), and all that’s necessary to assemble a gripping two hour story is to have the characters team up, then abandon each other and then double cross each other. How do you identify professionals like these? Well, recruit Michael Lonsdale (former Bond villain from Moonraker) to explain the meaning of the samurai known as Ronin who have become masterless; skilled swordsman with loyalty to no one any longer.
DeNiro plays “Sam” who may be former CIA. He’s one of five men hired by an Irish woman named Deirdre (Natasha McElhone) to retrieve the well-guarded package. This entails intercepting a convoy of cars riding along the French countryside. The fun in the car chase action of all this is that the characters are implied to be at least as ruthless as the subjects they’re stealing from. Therefore, Frankenheimer and his team of 300 (yes, that number is accurate) stunt drivers can offer up reckless collateral damage; cafes are crashed into, buses flip over, and motorcycles skid out of control. It’s Vice City before there was ever a Vice City video game. These guys are not stopping for little old ladies crossing the street.
Jean Reno partners up with DeNiro for a time as a Frenchman and Stellan Skaarsgard plays a German ex-KGB agent. Eventually, Jonathan Pryce comes in to play as well, representing more Irish influence. Sean Bean is here too. (Have you been paying attention? That’s three Bond villains in one movie!!!!) All good casting.
That’s about all there is to say. The plot is deliberately thin with a slight, mediocre twist, and a romance that’s nothing truly interesting.
Still, Ronin is watchable. Frankenheimer and his cinematographer, Robert Fraisse, present awesome locales of a thriving Europe from 1998. Editing is quick and sharp too. Consider Ronin a precursor to Paul Greengass’ Jason Bourne films.
If nothing else, beyond the various car chases and high stakes shootouts, DeNiro had me convinced he was clearly instructing his colleagues on how to remove a bullet from his gut.
Yes. You pretty much see everything.