Monday, September 16, 2013


"Have you ever killed someone?"

"I hurt a guys' feelings once."

I watched RONIN (1998) for the second time yesterday afternoon. I remember seeing this film when it was first released. I enjoyed it both times.

RONIN is a taut, terrific crime thriller that features not one, but two hell-and-gone car chases. One through the countryside surrounding the French city of Nice (and the narrow streets of the city) and another through Parisian streets and underground tunnels (with two vehicles heading into oncoming traffic). But the brilliantly staged and executed car chases are only part of the appeal of this film.

RONIN is the story of a team of former special forces and intelligence agents who are hired to steal a very mysterious and heavily guarded case, the contents of which are never revealed (a great McGuffin in the Hitchcock tradition).

The members of the team include Sam (Robert DeNiro) an ex-CIA operative, Spence (Sean Bean) a British agent who is strangely short on experience, Larry (Skipp Sudduth) another American and ace getaway driver, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), the computer whiz of the group (and every borderline criminal group needs a computer whiz as part of the team when they're plotting a caper) and Vincent (Jean Reno), a Frenchman whose past is never fully revealed.

The men are recruited and led by IRA member Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), who is clearly taking orders from someone above. That someones' identity remains unknown for much of the film.

A plan is set in motion to steal the valued suitcase, a plan that includes a well executed (and violent) ambush on a convoy of automobiles. But Gregor double crosses his teammates, replacing the real case with an identical case that is really a bomb. The surviving members are now on the hunt for Gregor but there are a multitude of plot twists and turns to come before the final resolution.

RONIN was directed by the great John Frankenheimer. The master is in good form here and the screenplay by David Mamet and J.D. Zeik is suitably dark and ambiguous. The cast is first rate and it's always a pleasure to watch De Niro in anything. With beautiful, exotic locales throughout France, blistering action scenes and a pretzel of a plot, RONIN is a winner.

Trivia: two of the actors in the film also starred as villains in James Bond films. Michael Lonsdale was in MOONRAKER while Jonathan Pryce was in TOMORROW NEVER DIES. 

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