Ronin (1998)

At a quick glance, Ronin has high aspirations to be a cut above your standard action film. There is an excellent cast with pseudo-highbrow “cool” written all over it (Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgård), the film is shot at gorgeous locales all over France, and the script keeps twisting and turning, keeping you guessing. But taken as a whole, the film ends up being memorable mainly because of a really kick-ass car chase.
Our Rating

Genre(s): Action, Crime, Drama

Director: John Frankenheimer

Actors: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce

Year: 1998

MPAA Rating: R

Country: United States

In historic Japan, “ronin” were samurai who had lost or been betrayed by their masters—warriors that were renegade swords-for-hire. With that in mind, we are introduced to a handful of scrappy modern guns-for-hire that have been gathered together for a mysterious mission: to gain possession of a metal case with mysterious contents.

We’ve got Sam (DeNiro), the American with perhaps a federal agent past, Vincent, the Frenchman with a soul (of course the über-soulful Reno), Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), the Irish ringleader, Gregor (Skarsgård), the shifty German, etc. They are all working together for this one dangerous assignment simply to earn some quick cash. Of course things don’t go as planned, people are not who they seem, and there are lots of car chases and guns fired.

What works best in Ronin are the performances of DeNiro and Reno. They ooze intelligence and camaraderie, as well as a worn-out weariness of not really enjoying their line of work. The film has some excellent car chase sequences (though the errant-car-crashing-through-an-outdoor-fruit-stand shot is getting kind of old). The car chases work so well because of the high cringe-inducing factor of “real” pedestrians getting mowed down left and right, not to mention all of the other unfortunate cars that are destroyed simply by being in the way. And, as superficial as it may sound, the beautiful French cityscapes almost serve as another character in the film.

But Ronin keeps going and going… from one chase scene to the next, as the mystery case changes hands and people change loyalties. After awhile, you are so worn out, that you don’t really care. Plus there is a silly romantic plot line thrown in (luckily not too developed on screen), and Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce have bizarrely unconvincing Irish accents that were distracting.

I’d say keep the majority of the cast, but smarten up the script and tighten up the plot—then you’d have a killer thriller! (Oh, but be sure to keep the cool car chase scene!)


Other than the typical audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer (which is mainly from a technical filmmaking perspective—as opposed to offering any juicy dirt about the cast), the most notable thing about the Ronin DVD is the inclusion of an alternate ending. It is a different version of the final scene which was tested on (and reviled by) audiences. I thought the ending that actually made the cut was unsatisfying, but, interestingly, I didn’t think the alternate was any better.


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