Ronin (1998) Review

ronin review

This movie is cold, hard, steely, lethal, terse, and most especially – REAL. This may well be the last, truly great car-chase movie, if for no other reason than the fact that almost every single bit of action was done on location, by real stunt men and women driving actual cars on actual city-streets and highways, rather than the filmmakers resorting to cheap CGI theatrics to pump up the phony adrenaline. I’d flip out if someone made a flick like this again, or one even half as good but still in this vein.

ronin review

Ghost written by David Mamet from an original story concocted by J.D. Zeik, this is easily one of my all-time favorite actioners ever crafted, and it’s a true testament to Frankenheimer’s confident directorial hand that at the age of 68 he was able to crank out this violent, no-nonsense piece of entertainment that makes so many other films made by younger filmmakers pale in comparison. Robert De Niro is cold-hearted brilliance here, totally making the most of the script’s pungent dialogue and macho banter, and the entire supporting cast is just fantastic: Stellan Skarsgard, Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Natasha McElhone, Sean Bean, Michael Lonsdale and Skip Sudduth all rip into their roles of freelance operatives (most of them retired ex-military) who are assembled to retrieve a mysterious briefcase for a shady boss, all the while having to navigate the tricky waters of loyalty and deceit.

ronin review

I love how people stand around in the frame during Ronin; there’s a geometry to the camerawork and the actor’s posturing that invites close scrutiny. Robert Fraisse’s elegant yet visceral cinematography is in perfect tandem with Tony Gibbs’s fleet editing that keeps the pace hurtling along without ever sacrificing coherence, while Elia Cmiral’s score knows when to turn up the volume or opt for total silence in favor of the revving engines of Audi’s, Citroën’s, and BMW’s, all of which are shot-up, flipped over, blown up, and driven extremely fast through the narrow streets of Nice and Paris. The stunt driving in this film is out of control and totally insane, and I honestly can’t think of another recent film that relied this much on the car chase to propel it’s story without ever feeling cheap or gimmicky, with the possible exception of this summer’s exuberant thrill-ride Baby Driver. But back to Ronin – this is a film I’ve seen countless times and it’s one that I’ll continually revisit for years to come.

Review by Nick Clement

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