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RONIN: DVD

SYNOPSIS:
Assembled to retrieve a valuable case for an Irish terrorist organisation, a team of ex-military and espionage specialists from around the world encounter double-crossing and murder when the case falls into Russian hands. Led by ex-American intelligence professional Sam (Robert De Niro) and French counterpart Vincent (Jean Reno), the team track all over Europe in search of the case, relying on their skills and cunning to stay ahead of the law while trying to stay alive.

Review by Craig Miller:
A veteran director of over 50 years in television and film, the late John Frankenheimer's varied career shows the work of a man not afraid to take risks and use his position to push social and political agendas. His best known feature, the 1962 masterpiece The Manchurian Candidate, is a stinging account of war-time politics and the power of government and, while Ronin is not up to the caliber of this film, it is one of his few really solid pictures that highlight a hidden world few see.

A stylish post Cold War thriller set amid the European espionage community, Ronin manages to talk the talk - the film is heavy in exposition and dialogue, no doubt thanks to script contributions from one David Mamet - and, for the most part, walk the walk, with high adrenaline action sequences peppering the film for much of the second half.

The title is in fact a Japanese term pertaining to samurai warriors who had no masters and were effectively nothing - serving only themselves as guns for hire. It's a clever title and fits well with the film's gang of mercenaries assembled to perform a "cash job", and it's this honour among thieves angle and the idea that there can be right in the wrong that Frankenheimer exploits to great effect.

Visually, the film is mighty impressive, with atmospheric settings and dazzling cinematography perfectly realising some wonderful European locations from gritty Paris streets to more picturesque city landscapes. Frankenheimer delights in the big action scenes and his wide-shot love makes these standout ten-fold. Every square centimeter of the frame is used here; there is rarely a scene in the film where there isn't something going on in both foreground and background and it's particularly effective in the long exposition scenes and for relaying subtle character information.

Along with a solid cast, with good performances from Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone as well as an extremely likeable performance from Jean Reno as a hired gun with real soul, the star of this post-Cold War thriller has to be the superb car chase sequences. Rivaling anything from the edgy auto action classic Bullit or the Matt Damon Bourne franchise flicks, Ronin dazzles with long, edge-of-your-seat chases that are heavily detailed and, more importantly, look dangerously realistic.

Another release in the MGM Gold Edition promotion, this two-disc DVD is one of the range's more impressive titles, as far as new material goes anyway. Not surprisingly, the transfer and audio are top-notch, as should be the case with any reasonably funded film made in the last twenty years and the included extras are welcome.

John Frankenheimer's commentary suffers a little at the hands of his monochromatic descriptions of scenes and scenarios, but he does offer a lot in terms of variety, chatting about rhythm of editing, the film's washed-out look, films that inspire him, locations and lots more. Like his films, he doesn't insult viewer's intelligence and there's plenty to learn from a filmmaking viewpoint.

The production featurettes, six in all, explore the film in greater depth covering everything from stunt work, the score, cinematography and shooting. The best of these is a twenty-minute chat with long-time Frankenheimer collaborator, editor Tony Gibbs. Getting to know the man behind the cutting and pasting is something of a treat; learning how he started in the biz, how he puts scenes together and film pacing. Sometimes editing can be overlooked in a film but, when you have featurettes like this, it's hard to take these workhorses for granted. There's also some stock promo interviews with Jean Reno, Robert De Niro and Natascha McElhone and an unnecessary alternate ending.

Even though this hit-and-miss director may not have gone out on top work-wise, Ronin followed a string of Frankenheimer rubbish in the years prior to his death, Reindeer Games and The Island of Dr. Moreau to name but two, it is a solid and enjoyable genre film that mostly works.

Published August 18, 2005

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RONIN: DVD (M)
(US, 1998)

CAST: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Skip Sudduth, Michael Lonsdale, Jonathon Pryce

DIRECTOR: John Frankenheimer

SCRIPT: J.D. Zeik

RUNNING TIME: 120 minutes

PRESENTATION: 2.45:1 widescreen, Dolby Digital 5.1

SPECIAL FEATURES: Director's commentary, production featurettes, interviews, alternate ending.

DVD DISTRIBUTOR: MGM

DVD RELEASE: August 17, 2005







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