A freelancing former U.S. intelligence agent tries to track down a mysterious package that is wanted by both the Irish and the Russians.
The career of director John Frankenheimer had a very unusual trajectory. Early in his career, he directed “The Manchurian Candidate,” a film that is so well known the phrase “Manchurian Candidate” became part of the lexicon. At the end of his career, however, Frankenheimer directed some films that were much less positively received. After the flop “The Island of Doctor Moreau,” Frankenheimer’s next film was “Ronin” and while it’s a very effective film, it’s not quite a classic.
The word “Ronin” comes from Japanese legend. The Ronin were Japanese samurai who roamed the countryside as hired gunslingers. Frankenheimer’s film revolves around a group of professional criminals in Paris. The group is comprised of Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård and the father of Bill Skarsgard, Pennywise in the current blockbuster “It”), and Spence (Sean Bean).
The plot to “Ronin” is a very paint-by-numbers heist story. The script was written by a first timer, John David Zeik (and it’s the sort of strange first film that makes many individuals interested in breaking into Hollywood think that anyone can write a movie.) The extremely talented David Mamet was brought in during the film’s production to amp up De Niro’s lines. Instead of focusing on its plot, the film is more of a tone piece about the movie’s characters and locations. And, considering that the film has a high chase scene in the tunnels of Paris, there’s an eerie similarity in tone at times to what the circumstances surrounding the death of Princess Diana must have been like. The goal of this group of hired men is to retrieve a briefcase although we’re never told what’s in it. A classic MacGuffin, the retrieval of the briefcase drives the events of the film.
At times, I felt frustrated by the tone of “Ronin.” The film does a brilliant job but the lack of humor or poignant moments can be a little too dry. Dropped in this static point of existence, the viewer is forced to follow a well-acted, generic theft film without too much explanation. “Ronin” also steers clear of any iconic action sequences like the chase scene in “The French Connection. Ultimately, “Ronin” is a skillfully made film, I just wish there had been more of a plot.
Now available on a Special Edition Blu-ray from Arrow Video