I’ve always viewed Ronin as a sped-up Alfred Hitchcock film, but yep, I’m nuttier than a fruitcake when I need to be. Late director John Frankenheimer’s mostly solid and thrilling 1997 action flick has a few Hitch hallmarks such as an obvious red herring as a major plot device, a bunch of men (and one woman) under pressure crammed into a tough situation, indiscriminate collateral damage thanks to high-speed chases and a story that has at least one major flaw one can overlook when all is said and done.
As usual, Arrow’s stellar Blu-Ray/DVD combo packs in the film and a load of bonus features worth a look. There’s also an alternate ending that is pretty darn awful, but we’ll get to that when we get to that.
(Thanks, Video Detective!)
Robert DeNiro is Sam, a seemingly former CIA agent who teams up with five other men, all looking for a fast payoff for doing a seemingly simple job of acquiring a mysterious case from a group of well-armed men. Their employer, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) is initially intentionally vague about certain info, but Sam pushes her to not only reveal more details, but eventually up the price the men will be paid to something more applicable to the level of danger involved.
Naturally, things go awry and there’s a bit of betrayal and back-stabbery as an initial cash for weapons exchange goes bad and later, the case ends up changing hands forcing tensions to run even higher. The film is a textbook example of a great cast handling a snappy, well written script to the point that the film has pretty much zero filler. Sure, you get Sean Bean as a kind of useless wannabe mercenary, but it’s an intriguing enough part that makes the early parts of the film. Johnathan Pryce pops up intermittently as an annoyingly angry guy named Seamus, but he’s integral to the plot particularly the latter third of the film.
DeNiro’s Sam is a suspicious, world-weary but alert agent. He’s always looking out for himself but he also wants his team to get the job done. His quick friendship with Jean Reno’s Vincent and to a lesser extent, Skip Sudduth’s Larry move the film’s small main cast along in the manner of a Howard Hawks film. Less dialog, but everything’s in the details. Familiarity with tools (in this case, speedy cars and assorted firearms), knowing where to go or who to see when things fall apart and Sam’s own code of not trusting what he initially sees all come into play.
As taught as the film is, its sole mistake is shoe-horning in a very brief fling between Sam and Dierdre that not only makes zero sense, it actually spoils the film and yes, sets up that horrid alternate ending. Let’s just say that Sam’s code nearly goes out the window (what, he didn’t see how badly that worked in Michael Mann’s Heat?) and dear Dierdre somehow forgets what she told Sean Bean’s Spence character about what would happen if he talked. Eh, watch the footage once, chuckle over it and know it’s not at all missed.
That said, special mention goes to Stellan Skarsgård as Gregor, a pretty stone-cold killer who nearly shoots a random child at one point just to prove a point to someone he despises. Yeah, that’s kind of Hitchcock-y too. The film even tosses in Katarina Witt in what would be a throwaway part, but she ends up as a plot point in a rather tense sequence. Elia Cmiral’s score is great overall, but you kind of get the feeling that the ghost of Bernard Herrmann was eyeballing all that action and wishing he could get in a try at scoring this one.
As noted, this is yet another superb Arrow conversion that packs in a ton of features, but I’ll let the press release spill those beans:
Brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release, supervised and approved by director of photography Robert Fraisse
High Definition Blu-ray (1080p)
Original English 5.1 audio (lossless on the Blu-ray Disc)
Optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer
Brand new video interview with director of photography Robert Fraisse
Paul Joyce documentary on Robert De Niro
Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane, an archival behind-the-scenes featurette
Through the Lens, an archival interview with Robert Fraisse
The Driving of Ronin, an archival featurette on the film’s legendary car stunts
Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process, an archival interview with the actress
Composing the Ronin Score, an archival interview with composer Elia Cmiral
In the Ronin Cutting Room, an archival interview with editor Tony Gibbs
Venice Film Festival interviews with Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone
Reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips
FIRST PRESSING ONLY: Collector’s booklet illustrated by Chris Malbon, featuring new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford
So, yeah. Get this is you liked the film back in 1997 or have yet to see it. It’s Frankenheimer at his best as well as a film that still packs a punch with a ton of action that betters a lot of what Hollywood is churning out today.
Score: A- (90%)
Review copy provided by the publisher