Ronin Rides a Roller Coaster
Frankenheimer Still Knows 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 Collector's Edition, there's even more to love about the film.
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.
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, but it's handled more in the tradition of directors like, well, John Frankenheimer rather than Paul Verhoeven. It isn't dwelled upon or sensationalized; it just happens.
In all, Ronin is an engrossing yarn.
The new Collector's Edition of Ronin is a two disc set that features a high definition-remastered anamorphic video picture that is wonderfully sharp and clean, with excellent color and detail. Audio is Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and it's also very good.
Disc one features a running commentary on the film by director John Frankenheimer and an interesting alternate ending that balances schmaltz with revenge in an interesting way.
Disc two is full of neat stuff, though we wish it were all presented in anamorphic widescreen. Our favorite bits were the featurettes "RONIN: Filming in the Fast Lane," an overview of the entire production, and "The Driving of RONIN," an English subtitled featurette with the film's French stunt driving master. Alas, this featurette is in French, and reading the subtitles takes your eyes off the action being described.
Other extras include 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 one on the musical score.
It's good stuff and welcome background info to the movie. But it's the movie that counts, and this edition of RONIN does visual and auditory justice to this great John Frankenheimer film.
Ronin, from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
Jim Bray's columns are available through the TechnoFile Syndicate.
We welcome your comments!