[box cover]

Ronin: Collector's Edition

Five Cold War veterans are hired by Irish agents to steal a mysterious suitcase, but when the job goes astray, they find themselves pitted against each other in a hunt for the package and the enormous payoff it will deliver. Directed by John Frankenheimer, Ronin (1998) could have been one of the late director's lesser efforts — in his late 60s when he made the film, the man who helmed The Manchurian Candidate, Birdman of Alcatraz, and Black Sunday had more than a few clunkers on his resume (anyone remember French Connection II?) But the original script by J.D. Zeik was rewritten from top to bottom by none other than David Mamet who, after the Writer's Guild decreed he had to share credit with Zeik, chose instead to be credited as "Richard Weisz." His script — and it is, indeed, Mamet's script every step of the way — is a beautifully constructed, dialogue-rich thriller, anchored by two powerful performances by Robert De Niro and Jean Reno. The two mercenaries, bound not by mere profit-seeking, but abstract notions of duty and honor, join a crew of professionals in a Paris café to plan a crime. In typical Mamet fashion, we aren't weighted down with excess backstory — the group assembles, they begin to talk, and it's up to us to figure out who they are by following the exquisitely metered dialogue. Sam (De Niro) is an American killer who may or may not be ex-CIA. Vincent (Reno) is Sam's mercenary-for-hire French counterpart. Computer whiz Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) is possibly ex-KGB, Spence (Sean Bean) is the Brit expert in guns and bombs, and Larry (Skipp Sudduth), another American, is the driver. The group's goal is to acquire a briefcase for the IRA, a classic McGuffin that's in the possession of a group of men "intent on preventing" its theft. The execution of the job takes the group to Cannes, Nice, and Rome, and with each plot development comes a car chase and a gun battle, with calm connecting scenes creating a palpable noir-ish rhythm that's matched by the expert tempo of Mamet's dialogue. Eschewing the staccato gunshot pace of his trademark Glengarry Glen Ross style, Mamet instead mimics classic 1950s thrillers and adds his own darkly funny imprint (instructing a colleague on how to extract a bullet from his side, De Niro's character calmly says, "I once removed a guy's appendix with a grapefruit spoon"). Despite its thriller credentials — and Ronin offers two intricate, extended car chases the likes of which Hollywood has not seen since the '70s heyday of muscle-car extravaganzas — at heart the film's another Mamet character study about the relationships between men, with thematic ties to Heist, Spartan and House of Games. Set against backdrops of seamy Paris and the gorgeous French countryside with world-class performances and one of the all time great directors working at the top of his game, Ronin is an action film of the first order.

Sony/MGM Home Video has re-released Ronin, adding a second disc of extras to their earlier version. Disc One is the same disc as before — the anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) is the identical to the 1998 release. It's not a bad transfer, really, but it could be much better — while the colors and contrast are fine, there's noticeable dust and some of the brighter scenes are alarmingly hazy. The DD 5.1 audio is the same — decent but unremarkable. Given the new two-disc repackaging, it would have been nice if Sony remastered the disc for this release. Disc One also features the original commentary track by Frankenheimer from the original release, and it's an excellent track — fun, informative, and full of the director's obvious love of movies. Disc Two offers a slew of new special features focusing on the folks behind the camera, including a "making-of" featurette "Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane" on Frankeheimer's crafting of the film (18 min.); "Through the Lens," a piece on DP Robert Fraisse (18 min.); "The Driving of Ronin," on the work of the movie's stunt drivers (15 min.); "Natascha McElhone: An Actor's Process," on the actress's experience working on the film (14 min.); "Composing the Ronin Score," on the work of composer Elia Cmiral (12 min.); "In the Cutting Room," with editor Tony Gibbs talking about how much he enjoyed working with Frankenheimer (19 min.); plus short interviews at the Venice Film Festival with De Niro, Reno, and McElhone. There's also a photo gallery and previews for other Sony/MGM releases. Dual-DVD slimline keep-case with paperboard slipcover.
—Dawn Taylor



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