I think the only thing I remember about Ronin initially was that Robert DeNiro (Heat) was involved in some scandal involving a French “house of ill-repute” or something along those lines. But when Ronin was released, people quickly forgot about that mess, as what came from it was an action film that put a little more effort into the characters than other action films. But that’s not to say the action scenes were neglected; the car chase scenes that negotiate through winding French cou…try roads, and through city sidestreets so narrow you couldn’t open either car door to get out of the car, are some of the most nail biting in recent memory. Based on J.D. Zeik’s story and rewritten by Richard Weisz, a.k.a. David Mamet, Ronin’s introduction is a title card about a Japanese samurai without a master, who are mission-less assassins. As a US operative named Sam, DeNiro is introduced almost immediately to the group, who include Frenchman Vincent (Jean Reno, Leon), the Russian, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard, Dogville) and the Brit, Spence (Sean Bean, Lord of the Rings). Their liaison between their employer and them is the Irish lass Deirdre (Natascha McElhone, Solaris), and their object is a briefcase whose contents are mysterious.
It’s hardly relevant though, as after an initial attempt to ambush the crew, Sam decides his mission is to find out who his employer is, and the reasons for such secrecy. The plot is fairly transparent, and directed by legendary action/suspense director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate), the film is really more about the tense driving scenes and the outstanding action scenes. Though for trivia geeks, the movie does boast three James Bond movie villains (Bean was in Goldeneye, Jonathan Pryce from Tomorrow Never Dies and as Vincent’s miniature painting friend Jean-Pierre, Michael Lonsdale from Moonraker). Ronin is good clean fun made more entertaining by Mamet’s contributions to the dialogue, and Frankenheimer’s action scenes are some of the more memorable in recent memory.
What the picture lacked, the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio clearly makes up for. While the first half of the movie is based on trying to find out more about this shady cast of characters, the second half, when the car chases and explosions kick in, that’s where the rubber meets the road, no pun intended. The pursuit of the case and the exploding cars winding through the French city and countryside sound fantastic and robust, and when DeNiro uses a rocket launcher to take out a car, it rattles the room.
MGM assigns Ronin a flipper status, with a 1.33:1 full frame version to go along with the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. I found my widescreen version of the film to be a bit shaky, with objects in the print, and even some noise and pixelation problems in the beginning of the film, but both issues went away pretty quickly. Past that, the film, which is pretty drab and gray intentionally, transfers OK to disc, with a lot of detail, but the first 15 minutes of the film soured my enjoyment of the rest to some degree.
MGM has had this disc in the bargain bin for awhile, and the lack of bonus material on the disc is probably the big reason why. There is an alternate ending that shows you what happened to Deirdre at the end of the film, but it apparently didn’t test well, and it was a bit needless. However Frankenheimer does contribute a commentary for the film that is full of information. In it, he points out the cuts and other technical information for the film, and also mentions his influences. We find out that yes, the actors were in the cars for some scenes, and that Formula 1 race car driver were used to drive in others. This may not be on any universal list of good commentary tracks, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. You’ve got the guy who’s directed Black Sunday discussing one of his films, and it’s more conversational, and very engaging.
You get an entertaining movie that can even be used as an audio demo disc for the home theater enthusiast. Combined with the awesome action sequences and car chases that rank among cinema’s best, throw in a more than capable cast and some traditional Mamet dialogue, this is a bargain.
Special Features List
- Director’s Commentary
- Alternate Ending