Ronin (1998) – John Frankenheimer

ronin

This entry on the 101 Action Movies list has quite a pedigree, it’s directed by John Frankenheimer, has a screenplay by David Mamet (as Richard Weisz), and stars Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth and Michael Lonsdale.

Shot entirely on location in France, the film is gritty, realistic, and incredibly tense, and has a couple of fantastic car chase sequences!

DeNiro plays Sam, a retired operative who is now taking jobs where he can get them, he is hired, along with other ex-military and operative types to steal a package that is being chased down by the Russians and the Irish. Each of the group has their own special skills, and despite repeatedly asking, are never told what is in the case, only that they are being paid well for its collection.

Sam is a professional, and yet he and Vincent (Reno) strike up a friendship, and watching these two together on-screen is a real delight, their relationship is real and natural. And even though they aren’t sure if they can trust one another completely, at least they know both of them work with a sense of honor.

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The same cannot be said of their fellows, and one or more of them – Dierdre (McElhone), Larry (Sudduth), Spence (Bean) and Gregor (Skarsgard) may not be all they appear to be.

When betrayal strikes, Sam and the group race to track down the package before it falls into the wrong hands, and a dangerous, sprawling game of chase begins across The Continent.

The action sequences, whether vehicular, foot or gun are wonderfully and intensely executed, and especially evident in the car chases is the fact that none of it is enhanced by computer generated effects. Every crash, every maneuver is real, there were hundreds of stunt drivers used for the driving sequences, and it looks fantastic on-screen, and it feels frighteningly real, as the cars weave in and around traffic, racing against traffic, racing through tunnels, smashing into cars, buses, the bit where a motorcycle gets clipped is stunning.

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DeNiro and Reno are both exemplary in the film, and I would love to see them do another one together. Both of their characters have a tired edge about them, and while they are undeniably keeping secrets from one another, the friendship that does develop between them feels believable and real.

The story is tensely paced, and there is a sense of urgency and danger permeating the film, even when it takes a breather before plunging into the final sequence, there’s a tension underlining everything, keeping the viewer on edge, because in this world when violence erupts, it’s quick, brutal and deadly. The shoot-outs are brilliantly conceived and orchestrated, my favorite being ‘The Fish In A Barrel’ scene.

This is a film with a great cast, tight pacing, gorgeous locations, fast cars, and an intelligent script. A film that entertains, but never talks down to the viewer. That is the kind of action film I truly enjoy.

What did you think of it?

Ronin 5

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