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Overall Rating

Awesome: 18.8%
Worth A Look: 31.62%
Pretty Bad: 9.4%
Total Crap: 6.84%

10 reviews, 57 user ratings

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by Rob Gonsalves

"Kick-ass Frankenheimer/Mamet Euro-action."
5 stars

'Ronin' is what you've been waiting for. If you've sat, bored and resentful, through any number of Hollywood "thrillers" weighed down by one incompetent decision after another, 'Ronin' is the movie you really wanted.

The movie is unapologetically pulpy -- it even includes several examples of Roger Ebert's famous Fruit Cart cliché -- but it's a beautiful piece of work: elegant without being ponderous, complex without being complicated. It's also a triumphant return to form by director John Frankenheimer, whose The Manchurian Candidate is now considered one of the great American films. Ronin isn't quite in that league, but at least it's playing the same sport.

In Paris, a motley group of mercenaries are assembled. Their mission, should they choose to accept it: find a gray metal suitcase and steal it. Any questions? The bare-bones abstractness of Ronin has a rigorous purity that the long and boring Heat, a three-hour epic about a cop trying to catch a thief, could only dream of. I'd call the movie meat-and-potatoes, except its flavor is too European for that. With its international cast, art-house feel (cinematographer Robert Fraisse and composer Elia Cmiral can take a bow), and steady pulse, Ronin is like an amped-up '90s rewrite of the '60s cool-crime movies of Jean-Pierre Melville and Seijun Suzuki. Not to mention The Usual Suspects, John Woo, and everything in between.

The script, by J.D. Zeik (who conceived the story) and David Mamet (who reportedly did a page-one rewrite and took a screen credit as "Richard Weisz"), sketches in the characters: Sam (Robert De Niro), the ex-CIA agent whose antennae are always tuned to danger; Vincent (Jean Reno), a French mercenary; Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), a deadpan assassin; Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), the Irish arranger who sets everything up; and Seamus (Jonathan Pryce), who's connected to Deirdre somehow. The characters are underwritten, but in a way that allows the actors to fill in the blanks -- a dangerous move when attempted by filmmakers and actors who don't know what they're doing.

The result here is casual magic. Frankenheimer alternates between bang-up action and relaxed dialogue scenes; the connection between the two is the movie's general loose rhythm. De Niro and Reno are as plausible sipping coffee together (they're like working stiffs after a long day at the office) as they are driving a speeding car through the tunnels of Paris. Ronin shrugs at its own crisp professionalism, like an assassin who's no longer impressed by his way with a rifle. On every level, the movie is smoothly underplayed, and the climactic explosive moments really count for something. The events unfold with a neat precision that has to be part Mamet and part Frankenheimer -- who turn out to be a dream team.

I never thought car chases could do anything but bore me any more, but Ronin sports some of the most electrifying set pieces since the Mad Max series. The exhilaration comes not from the excessiveness of the destruction but from the snappy rhythm of it, the clear God's-eye view of who's where and which collisions follow from other collisions. The result is what's often referred to as "pure cinema," and the label fits Ronin snugly. John Frankenheimer is 68 now, and young pups like Michael Bay could learn a lot from this old hand.

'Ronin' feels like the work of a fresh new talent, as, in a sense, it is: Despite enjoyable oddities like 1996's 'The Island of Dr. Moreau' and taut HBO films like 1994's 'Against the Wall,' Frankenheimer hasn't had the success or acclaim he's deserved, or the right projects for his skills. It's good to have him back, and great to see him working with such confidence and class.

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originally posted: 01/17/07 15:34:21
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell decent no more no less 3 stars
5/16/10 the dork knight Stodgy and lethargic. I guess that makes it a "thinking man's" thriller, eh. 3 stars
8/28/09 Jeff Wilder Intelligent action film. A cut above standard issue crapola. 4 stars
4/17/07 action movie fan very good action thriller-genuine car chases insted of cgi 5 stars
9/30/06 ProSneakyD Boring and nothing but car crap chases 2 stars
8/16/06 Eric Rountree Features one of the all time best (REAL) car chases 4 stars
5/26/06 William Goss Not nearly as clever as it wants (or needs) to be, but those car chases! 4 stars
1/07/06 steve newman I still dont understand what happened under the bridge - otherwise good 4 stars
9/19/05 Robs It may have this flaws, but it's still a good action/thriller film. 4 stars
8/11/05 ES I hated car chases until i saw this film, stellar cast 5 stars
4/20/05 Indrid Cold Solid action, but nothing to write home about. 3 stars
10/23/04 UMER good action-good acting-good plot-good direction-good movie 4 stars
9/18/04 Anarchist_101 It's underrated... IT AINT ALL THAT BAD~! 4 stars
6/14/04 Rachit Vats Absolutely smashing movie 5 stars
6/04/04 R.W. Welch Overdoes the car chase stuff. Otherwise, reasonably effective. 3 stars
5/17/04 The More You Know Streamlined warrior tale "without the cuts and knicks of a blade." 5 stars
4/06/04 Agent Sands Mr. Hat's right. Action's good but a halfwit could write the whole script in about 2 hours. 3 stars
2/19/04 Vince Excellent action flick. Highly recommended. 5 stars
2/15/04 homer i thought it was rather entertaining myself 4 stars
1/07/04 Ron Excellent, realistic (from true experience) 5 stars
12/05/03 john a thinling man's action movie - powerful and with a good story and a great cast 5 stars
7/06/03 Mr. Hat (I'm Back MoFos!!!) Rug-fiber-thin plotline, characters R flat, car chases & shootouts are pretty cool. 3 stars
4/10/03 ToDD This movie is a action packed monkey suit 4 stars
3/22/03 Jack Sommersby Uninvolving, dull thriller. Cast is sleepwalking, and the chase scenes are lame. 1 stars
1/05/03 R.W. Welch Par for the course actioner; would have been better on a smaller budget. 3 stars
10/15/02 Charles Tatum I needed an interpreter just to plow through all the accents 3 stars
8/16/02 Scott DeNiro played his part well. Loved the chases. Highly Underrated 5 stars
3/02/02 Jake Took way too long to develop and I switched channels. 1 stars
6/04/01 Bront My advice to Guide2Film, go watch a fucking disney movie, one of the greatest thrillers eve 5 stars
3/31/01 Monster W. Kung One of De Niro's worst. If you wanna see him in a good movie, look elsewhere. 2 stars
10/30/00 maksim awsome fucking movie, really worth seeing 5 stars
10/29/00 steven hargreaves best car chases. If it had a shoot out like heat it would be a must see 4 stars
10/11/00 P. Rodriguez Dammit now I want and AUDI. If anyone's selling............ 4 stars
6/29/00 Terrie Smith DeNiro and Reno are good; McElhone is cold as ice. Good car chases. 4 stars
6/24/00 Naushad Khanji Better than Matrix.Chases are lame.Action is watered down 2 stars
4/07/00 Gremlin You guys suck, this movie kicked ass. Best car chases I've seen for a long time! 5 stars
10/11/99 Weird Andy Mamet sucks Satan's pecker again. Not a bad movie, though. Well crafted autopilot fun. 4 stars
9/13/99 Fast Mover This is an excellent action/plot twist video rental. The night guns purchase, ensuing gun b 5 stars
9/06/99 BBReBozo Car chases. Guns go boom. Deniro. Reno. Hot Irish chick. What the hell else you want? 5 stars
7/15/99 bridgette exciting at times 4 stars
5/08/99 Rudiger Fortesque III Good car chases, excellent shootings, okay plot 4 stars
4/05/99 Cool Thing Great cast wasted. What happened to that Irish guy? Disappeared. 3 stars
2/20/99 MR HOLLYWOOD!! Car-chases take over plot,originality and story,De Niro looks in need of sleep. 3 stars
2/20/99 Piz a Mission Impossible-esque film with plenty more action. What was in that box? 4 stars
12/05/98 tj great car niro is the man...but just doesn't quite have it 3 stars
12/03/98 Kirgo Incredibly disappointing. Tons of ideas fromother films don't make a compelling script! 2 stars
12/02/98 superkip its not great, but the car chases alone make it worth seeing 4 stars
11/24/98 Fred If you're gonna pop civilians, give the bad guys a really ingenious death, I always say. 3 stars
11/17/98 Jeff C. Hate to say anything bad about a movie with such a good cast but it really was very poor 2 stars
11/04/98 The Dude one of the best trillers I've seen in a long time 5 stars
10/25/98 BBReBozo Car chases, shmar shmases. The ending was the best part. 5 stars
10/23/98 Christ Monkey Fucking amazing car chases, and little else. 3 stars
10/23/98 Daddy Rich I thought it was pretty good. I loved the car chases. 4 stars
10/19/98 Dark Horizons "Ronin" just has cliched, cliched, cliched written all over it. 3 stars
10/17/98 Mr Showbiz Tries so hard to be a controlled exercise in paranoia that it completely fails to entertain 3 stars
8/30/98 {{{OZ}}} An action film with a lot of plot twists. The thinking man's Lethal Weapon. 4 stars
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  25-Sep-1998 (R)
  DVD: 09-May-2006

  20-Nov-1998 (15)
  DVD: 01-Feb-2000

  04-Feb-1999 (M)

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