Ronin a Real Roller Coaster Ride

Frankenheimer Knew Action Genre...

With Ronin, legendary director John Frankenheimer (Grand Prix, The Manchurian Candidate) put his considerable talents into a post-Cold War tale of espionage and intrigue that's in the grand tradition of the genre.  And with this new Blu-ray, the film looks and sounds even better than before.

The film focuses on a group of mercenaries and ex-spies brought together by a mysterious Irish woman named Dierdre, ostensibly to recover a metallic case and its unknown contents. Naturally, that's only the tip of the iceberg, and from that rather formulaic beginning Ronin takes the viewer on a high speed, high tech chase across France in which you never really know who, if anyone, is a good guy - let alone what the heck is really going on - until the carefully-timed placement of the knowledge squarely under your nose near the end.

Not that the movie is muddled; far from it. It's deliberately unhelpful, unfolding at its own pace, and that helps build the excitement. It's worth the wait, too; along the way, you learn more than you might expect about these people, their motivations, and who in fact they really are and for whom they're working.

The cast is led by Robert De Niro, who plays Sam - who may be an ex-CIA agent but who's now working for the highest bidder. He's joined by Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Skipp Sudduth, and Sean Bean as the team members. Bean's presence, along with those of Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale, could make the cast seem almost like "return of the ex-James Bond villains," but all three actors have what can best be described as supporting, almost cameo roles - which shows the high powered quality of Ronin's outstanding cast.

We won't spoil things by telling anything more about the plot - except to mention that Frankenheimer has staged a couple of the best car chases in recent years and they'll keep you pumped.

Speaking of Frankenheimer, he has done an excellent job of staging the action and violence without going overboard with the gore. Sure, there's shooting and killing and blood, but it's handled more in the tradition of directors like, well, John Frankenheimer rather than Paul Verhoeven or Sam Peckinpah. It isn't dwelled upon or sensationalized; it just happens.

In all, Ronin is an engrossing yarn.

While the Blu-ray version of Ronin looks and sounds great, it dumps a lot of the stuff that made the earlier, two disc DVD set so interesting. Gone is the running commentary by director Frankenheimer and the alternate ending that balanced schmaltz with revenge in an interesting way.

Gone, too, are the featurettes "RONIN: Filming in the Fast Lane," an overview of the entire production, and the fascinating "The Driving of RONIN," an English subtitled featurette with the film's French stunt driving master. Gone are the original Venice film festival interviews with De Niro, Reno and McElhone, and featurettes on the director of photography, co-star Natascha McElhone, "In the Cutting Room", and the musical score.

Still, while we're disappointed in this - hell, they could have just ported the stuff over in SD - we've always said it's the movie that's important and the Blu-ray version looks and sounds great.

Presented in 1080p high definition at an aspect ratio of 2/35:1, the picture is wonderfully sharp and clean, with excellent color and detail and good depth, Ronin has never looked so good.

Audio is dts HD 5.1 Master Lossless, and it features excellent fidelity. The cars, the ordnance, the ambience, all come through beautifully and all the channels are used very well - at various times the sound stage is spacious (inside the area, for example), while at others bullets whiz around the room and at others you're sitting right in the action during the outstanding chases.

So while we're disappointed in the lack of supplements (you do get the trailer!), this edition of RONIN does visual and auditory justice to this great John Frankenheimer film.

Ronin, from MGM Home Entertainment
Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce
Produced by Frank Mancuso, Jr.
Written by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz, Directed by John Frankenheimer

Jim Bray's columns are available from the TechnoFile Syndicate.

Buy the eBook
Ransom for the stars
of Jim Bray's
fantastic Sci-Fi Adventure