Blog Directory CineVerse: A Ronin stone gathers no moss

A Ronin stone gathers no moss

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Looking for an action flick that's a bit offbeat without missing a beat as an entertaining and gripping picture? Check out Ronin, John Frankenheimer's 1998 thriller starring Robert De Niro and a notable cast of supporting performers. Why is it worth your time? Our CineVerse group discussed Ronin's merits last week, as summarized below.

What did you find interesting, unexpected, or refreshingly different about this film, particularly as a spy/espionage-type action thriller?

  • Robert DeNiro plays against type here, portraying at 54 years old an action hero. We’ve never really seen him in this kind of role before, although his turn in Midnight Run showed he could effectively play an athletic tough guy with a gun (in that film he was a bounty hunter).
  • Instead of developing a love story subplot between Sam and Deidre, which is hinted at briefly, the real relationship that blossoms in this movie is between Sam and Vincent: a bromance instead of a romance, if you will.
  • The film also avoids many tropes and conventions for this breed of picture, including a comedic sidekick, an obligatory sex scene, excessive explosions, speechifying from heroes or villains, and music-accompanied montages (like a weapons-gathering montage orchestrated with pulsing hip-hop music).
  • The cast assembled here is exceptional for a smart action movie of this kind. Aside from DeNiro, we see Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan SkarsgĂ„rd, and Sean Bean—each of whom has served as impressive lead actors in films of their own.
  • The car chase sequences—especially the more elaborate second one—are impressive, especially when you consider how tight some of these streets are and how congested the thoroughfares are with drivers and pedestrians. These are real stunt drivers driving real cars at real fast speeds in real European locations, and the stunt choreography, fast-paced editing, and sound design make for a pulse-pounding experience.
  • The film lacks a comprehensible plot and character development. Still, with all the double-crossings and surprise twists and turns it takes, the rapid pacing, and the fact that much is left unexplained (like what’s in the case, who is working for who, why Miki doesn’t care about the skater Natacha being killed, and what happened to Deidre), the narrative can be confusing and difficult to keep up with.
  • Thanks to the European actors cast and European settings, this doesn’t look or feel like an average American spy/heist derring-do movie.

Themes on display in Ronin

  • Betrayal, shifting allegiances, double-crossing, and switchbacks
  • Abiding by a professional code, which in this line of work includes trusting no one, anticipating your enemy’s next move, solving problems yourself without relying on others, not getting personally attached, and knowing who you’re working for and with.
  • Playing chess, in which anticipating your adversary’s next move is crucial to winning the game, the professionals are the major pieces and bystanders are the disposable pawns.
  • Finding purpose and merit as a wayward warrior. We learn that Ronin are masterless samurai who essentially become mercenaries for hire, yet because they are so highly trained and disciplined, they are valued for their specialized talents. Interestingly, we think Sam is ex-CIA but by the end of the film he reveals that he’s still with the CIA: In other words, his partners in the scheme are ronin but he is not.

Other movies that Ronin brings to mind

  • Films with fantastic car chase scenes, including Bullit, The French Connection, and Vanishing Point
  • Pulp Fiction, which also features a mysterious case that’s never opened
  • The Bourne films, including The Bourne Identity
  • Heist, CIA, and spy films like Heat, The Jackal, From Paris With Love, Mission: Impossible, Spy Game, The Assignment, and The Foreigner

Other films directed by John Frankenheimer

  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Seconds
  • Seven Days in May
  • Birdman of Alcatraz
  • The French Connection II

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