Ronin (VHS, 1999, Contemporary Classics) Reviews
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Ronin (VHS, 1999, Contemporary Classics)

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Ronin: 80 Cars Wrecked During Filming

Jan 28, 2002 (Updated Jan 28, 2002)
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Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Ensemble cast, location filming, photography, score

Cons:script and film editing

The Bottom Line: Great acting and photography derailed by poor scripting and flabby editing. Still, action lovers will rave over Ronin!


Did you ever kill anybody? Spence
I hurt somebody's feelings once. Sam

Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), an enigmatic Irish woman, gathers together a crack international mercenary team of former operatives from various covert services to rob a mysterious aluminum case for an unidentified buyer. These operatives are the Ronin of the title - masterless samurai who work for pay. They have been trained by their respective governments in certain unique skills only to be discarded when no longer needed. Now, I've explained it a heckuva lot better than the movie does, so remember: you read it here first! J

Directed by John Frankenheimer of The Manchurian Candidate fame, Ronin does some things extremely well and other things not so well. A look at the best of Ronin; there are unparalleled car chases. They are often filmed from the driver's point of view, a camera angle first seen in The French Connection but done immeasurably better here, using high performance BMW, Mercedes, Citroen, Audi, and other incredibly expensive European marques, rather than nondescript Pontiac family sedans. The chases take place through the narrow streets of Europe and will scare the bejeebers out of you.

The weapons sequences, and they have some heavy ordnance - including bazookas and automatic rifles - are quite well done and convincing by action movie standards. Acting is very well done also from an ensemble cast, including the Ronin: Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Skip Sudduth, and Stellan Skarsgård, with all performances competent but the chemistry between DeNiro and Reno outstanding. The various villains, including Jonathan Pryce are also well done. Photography and scoring is top notch and keeps you on the edge of your seat during the frequent action sequences. Filmed on location in Paris, Nice, and Arles, it gives an authentic look and feel to the film and is wonderfully scenic as well.

So much for the good points - and there are many - where Ronin falls down is in the scripting and storytelling. From the heavy-handed opening graphics defining "Ronin" in the classical Japanese sense to a later scene where a mysterious model builder reiterates the Ronin story to one of the main characters the script hits the viewer over the head vainly trying to make the connection between the mercenary team and the classical Ronin of old, but fails miserably. Remember my opening plot synopsis? That took me a couple of hours of profound thought on the connection between the title and the film after viewing the movie three times over a week. The connections just aren't put across in the film no matter how well done the action is. The pseudo-samurai connections could have been left out and most viewers would never have noticed or cared. Not only that, there is no payoff for all the stage setting of these explanations, so what is the point?

The story by J. D. Zeik, rewritten by playwright David Mamet under the pseudonym Richard Weisz, has good dialog, especially for DeNiro's character but enough plot holes to drive a herd of Hereford cattle through. We never learn who is the principal, except that he is a man in a wheelchair mentioned several times. We never know what is in the case (Marsellus Wallace's soul?). We never learn why everybody wants it and is willing to kill everyone else over it. SPOILER PLOT HOLE: Why would DeNiro, a bonafide CIA case officer (as we later learn), allow himself to be operated on by amateurs in less than sanitary surroundings? To maintain his cover? Hmm-mm… don't think so…

The film editing is not bad but it suffers from the common disease of letting scenes drag on past their useful life. Thus, the 121-minute running time could have been cut by about twenty minutes, making it a better film. For example, the scene where Reno's mysterious friend explains the legend of the Ronin could have been left on the cutting room floor, saving ten minutes by that cut alone. The fairly long ice rink sequence could also have been cut by several minutes so I think a twenty-minute reduction could easily be done and would tighten the story up considerably.

Ronin is a good thriller with plenty of excitement for action and adventure fans. The only thing is, it could have been so much better with the proper scripting and editing. Three stars.


Recommend this product? Yes

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David Mamet wrote this screenplay under the name Richard Weisz, as a gun for hire, much like the masterless samurai of the film's title, who roamed Ja...
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