Ronin (1998)
Ronin (1998)

Genre: Action Running Time: 2 hrs. 2 min.

Release Date: September 25th, 1998 MPAA Rating: R

Director: John Frankenheimer Actors: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce, Skipp Sudduth, Michael Lonsdale, Katarina Witt




n feudal Japan, samurai warriors that lost the lord they were supposed to protect become outcasts and wanderers known as Ronin. The opening scene introduces just such a modernized assemblage of correlating characters, comparable to ancient Ronin through their stealthy methods of operating, skewed sense of honor, and solitary lifestyle. This is all done, perhaps like a samurai film, without the use of any dialogue in English and without much action. It’s an observatory moment during which character details are shaped for a diverse group of mercenaries, gathered together in present-day Paris for a mysterious, dangerous mission.

Their goal is to ambush a squadron of heavily-armed cars to steal a briefcase. The contents are unknown and the employer is a secret – and the number of people who will be after them once the job is complete is entirely unnerving. But the payoff is a minimum of $40,000 (or $200,000 after De Niro is done negotiating), depending on the number of days necessary to succeed. With so few answers, it’s a waiting game for the skilled killers, just as it’s a complete mystery for the audience. Like the opening scene, much of the film is designed for suspense with all of the potentially fatal unknowns. The only thing that is certain is that these men aren’t afraid of guns.

Larry (Skipp Sudduth) is a transportation expert; Spencer (Sean Bean) is a weapons man, who slowly reveals himself to be less of a professional than the others; Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) is a hi-tech computer guy; and Vincent (Jean Reno) is simply a competent killer. The final, most prominent player is Sam (Robert De Niro), a sarcastic negotiator and a man with the utmost expertise in assassinations – but one who reveals nothing to the others. And Dierdre (Natascha McElhone) is the woman who set it all up, acting as the attaché and go-between for the real employer and the hired guns.

Sam is clearly the smartest and slickest; he’s able to persuade and lead and always thinks with a level head (though he’s briefly distracted by Dierdre’s good looks). Sam is the kind of guy who never walks into a place he can’t walk out of; he needs to familiarize himself with the details of every situation and won’t tolerate amateurs when it comes to dealing death. He also has connections – as the film progresses, this fascinating lone wolf continues to impress and surprise.

As surveillance is taken, research conducted, and information gathered, the day of the ambush slowly approaches. Due to the quantity of armored cars, the abundance of security, and the number of heavy weapons, the group desperately needs another two men to aid in the assault – but there isn’t time. The plan is well-conceived, the preparations adequate, and the skills unquestionable. But once the chase begins, double-crosses, second-guessing, and unexpected twists plague their every move, especially when the value of the case attracts the attention of the Russians, the Irish, and several other factions that wish to turn a profit.

Bazooka firepower and blinding explosions supplement incredibly realistic, lengthy car chases, further adorned with grandly destructive aftermaths. Intricately choreographed flights through tunnels, under bridges, pursued by police, and against traffic provide opportunities for technical amazement. Shootouts on the streets of Nice are comparable to “Heat’s” outdoor bank robbery escape, while a little self-surgery and faultlessly quick wit are reminiscent of “The Fugitive” and “The Professional.” Director John Frankenheimer proves once again that he knows how to handle fast-paced adventure, white-knuckle suspense, and in-depth character studies, all under the guise of an icy cool action film. But it’s even more brilliant when interpreted beyond face value, with sharp humor lurking behind both the dialogue and the violence, all while a subtle twist on the themes of “The 47 Ronin” unfolds. Unfortunately, the voiceover at the conclusion loses some of the momentum, while the ending features a lone sniper preparing for the kill from afar, mimicking the finale of Frankenheimer’s 1962 masterpiece “The Manchurian Candidate.”

– Mike Massie

  • 8/10