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Ronin (1998) – Movie Review

Ronin movie poster

Written by: David Mamet (writing as Richard Weisz) and J.D. Zeik, based on a story by J.D. Zeik
Directed by: John Frankenheimer
Starring: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Jonathan Pryce

My Advice: Rent it.

Ronin begins with a definition of the title (in a really crappy font, nonetheless). For those who don’t know, a ronin is a masterless samurai. My first thought was that the film was beginning in a deficit. “Why explain the title up front? Why not have it explained during the course of the movie?” To my great chagrin, they did explain it again, I guess for those that were busy at the concession stand and missed the opening of the film. That’s pretty much indicative of the rest of the film, I fear.

The call goes out from Deirdre (McElhone). She needs people to go and grab a mysterious case which apparently contains the soul of Seamus (Pryce). I’m kidding. Who shows up? A cool and collected bunch of mercenaries, and Sam (DeNiro), an American former CIA agent, becomes their impromptu leader. Simple, right? Take a case away from some guy. Easy pickings, right? Well, not really.

[ad#longpost]There are some things that the film does well. The car chase sequences are unbelievably intricate and edge-of-your-seat intense. Neat little espionage factoids are sprinkled throughout the film, such as: smoking not only will eventually kill you, but it screws up your night vision. Who knew? The characters are smartly written, and I’m sure Mamet had a lot to do with it. DeNiro is in excellent tough guy form and is such a badass he can ambush you with a cup of coffee, for crying out loud. Jean Reno, the only person to still have my respect following Godzilla, plays opposite DeNiro perfectly. Oh, and he’s a badass who can get you anything you need–just ask him. SkarsgÃ¥rd’s character may wear glasses, but don’t let that fool you, he’s a crafty techie badass who can track you around the streets of France. Jonathan Pryce plays a badass who will ambush you with multiple accents–and he’s a really interesting cruel terrorist guy. All the players are good, so what happened?

They forgot that we, the audience, could think. The insulting double explanation aside, there’s a romantic element that was unnecessary and completely incredulous. There’s also a voice-over to close out the film, just in case you weren’t certain what you were supposed to take away with you when you walked to the parking lot. These detriments (I can’t quite call them elements) felt tacked on by a studio they’re so clumsy. They’re such glaringly silly mistakes, that I docked the film harshly–because it could have been so much better had they left it alone. Moments of fun, moments of testosterone, but that’s about it. Would look great on your TV at home.

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