This might not be a perfect film, but it has the benefit of being unique and striking. Imagine, a “Mission:Impossible”-type espionage thriller with more explosive action than you can handle but also great performances from some of the best actors in the world. The always fantastic Robert De Niro stars as Sam, an ex-CIA agent turned mercenary. You could say he’s a ronin, i.e. a masterless samurai who works as a bandit. You might think you’ve seen everything De Niro had to offer, but you have yet to see him at James Bond-speed (don’t even bring up the overlong “Heat”). His character is still existential, but mostly, Sam is a guy with huge balls and uncanny determination. But like all modern Hollywood action heroes, he’s also a cool guy with a sense of humor.
As the film begins, he’s teamed up with four other international renegade agents by Irish terrorists who are paying them to steal a case from Russian mobsters. We’re never told what it contains, but it’s worthy enough for both sides to wreck chaos through France to retrieve it. Sam mostly bonds with Vincent, played by Jean Reno, who American audiences could call badass-French-supporting-character, especially after his role in the inane Godzilla. But if you saw “Nikita” or “The Professional” ( both from Luc Besson), you know he’s actually a brilliant character actor, possibly the European equivalent of Bobby De Niro. Hence, it sure is a blast to see those two together, especially in such an enjoyable film.
The film also features Natascha McElhone, who you probably remember as Jim Carrey’s dream girl in “The Truman Show”. Oh, she is so good looking! What’s so appealing about her is that she doesn’t fit in any Hollywood-babe type. She has a sensual, mysterious quality about her. Her enemy-or-ally?-foreign-babe role is a bit thankless, but I think that if given the right material, she could be a great actress. Ronin ain’t what boring film students and tightass critics would call great cinema. Some may say that it doesn’t have much of a plot, and they’re not completely wrong. Some twists are unbelievable, and the story ain’t that exceptional. Yet, with a John Frankenheimer at the top of his form, this is an amazing film-film. Like “Snake Eyes”, this is a picture from a movie lover for movie lovers. It does borrow from other films, and some might find it artificial, but you can’t say that it ain’t great filmmaking.
Frankenheimer’s direction is highly energetic and he packs his film with brilliantly crafted set pieces. This is an old-school action film… I can’t tell how much I adore that the film is set in Europe. I love America and all, but how many chases through San Francisco can we watch? It’s great to have De Niro and his men driving like crazy through the chaotic streets of cities like Paris and Nice. Even if you’ve had your share of car chases, you gotta check out the stuff they pull in “Ronin”! In fact, the film is so exciting when it’s at full throttle that you can forgive its flaws. The film only messes up at the end with a ridiculous and strangely unmemorable showdown. But still, “Ronin”‘s a kick ass film. Oh yeah.