RONIN (1998)

Review by Derrick Carter

Running Time: 2 hours 2 minutes

MPAA Rating: R for Strong Violence and some Language

Ronin poster

Directed by: John Frankenheimer

Written by: J.D. Zeik & David Mamet

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean & Jonathan Pryce

RONIN is the best FAST & FURIOUS movie never made. This thriller doesn’t venture too far over-the-top in its many action sequences, features a likable band of rag-tag heroes, and rip-roaring car chases. Though the plot is pretty simple stuff, the execution of the material offers a lot of fun for viewers who just want a cool action thriller that doesn’t require over-complicated twists or a ridiculous number of explosions. Plus, you have Robert De Niro and Jean Reno as a pair of badass mercenaries. There’s something to be said for that alone.

On the streets of Paris, five strangers have been recruited by an Irishwoman to retrieve a mysterious briefcase. The contents of the case are not revealed to the group. They are only informed that they need to retrieve it from some heavily armed men and that they will be handsomely rewarded. Whatever is inside of this small case seems to be causing a lot of tension between various nations (including Russia and Ireland) and the group soon find themselves put through shifting loyalties, lots of car chases, and double-crossings galore. This also leaves two of the mercenaries, Sam (De Niro) and Vincent (Reno) to fend for themselves in the chaotic violence.

RONIN gets off to a solid start by introducing our band of diverse characters. The witty banter between them is entertaining to watch, especially Robert De Niro throwing smartass dialogue at a mile a minute. Other cast members include Jean Reno (a few years past his iconic LEON role), Jonathan Pryce (always a welcome face), Sean Bean (in a small part), and Stellan Skarsgard (who has a significant role to play in the proceedings). Though a few characters are drastically underused (especially Bean) and a so-so romantic angle muddles the proceedings, RONIN could be recommended purely on the merits of watching its R-rated OCEAN’S ELEVEN style characters talk amongst themselves.

The characters are just icing on an adrenaline-filled cake as this film packs in some of the most exciting cinematic car chases I’ve ever seen in my life! RONIN isn’t wall-to-wall action, especially because the first third spends so much time developing these characters and setting up the stakes. When the film takes off in a high-speed pursuit (one of many), it rarely lets up. Bullets fly, betrayals occur, suspense is milked, and people die. It’s all tremendously exciting stuff, especially since the characters are actually worth caring about.

The downside to RONIN comes in the form of several clichés that rear their ugly heads in an overly familiar story that also becomes too predictable during moments. This is especially true of the climax which is set in a location that really felt like it was from an entirely separate movie and used one twist too many. These clichés don’t hurt the proceedings much, but are dusty nonetheless. Even more annoying is that Jean Reno isn’t given much to say when Robert De Niro keeps throwing out an endless stream of clever one-liners during his scenes.

RONIN is far from a classic, but does contain some of the greatest car chases in cinematic history. The simple plotline only serves as an excuse to get all of these big actors in one film that happens to have a fair share of gun fights, explosions, and criminals. It’s basic and to-the-point fun that should entertain those looking for a quick fix of car chases and bullets.

Grade: B

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