Ronin is the name given to Japanese Samurai swordsmen sworn to protect their liege after they had failed in their duty, forcing them to wander the land looking for work as hired swords and bandits.
Now the Cold War has ended, this is the age of the freelance killer. In Paris a five-strong group, each known as ‘Ronin’ – the characters of which have all served their respective countries in different ways, are assembled with one objective – to ambush a convoy of 2-3 cars, from a group of men in number between 5 and 8. and steal back a caseWhat’s in the case? But what’s inside it? Well, that’d be telling. This sounds like a simple plan which can be carried out effortlessly, but once double-crossing becomes part of the plan’s recipe, the mission becomes anything but simple.
Every member of the cast has their memorable part to play and does it very well, especially Robert De Niro and Stellan Skarsgård, who – the first time I saw this, and I think it was the first time I’d seen him – I felt he played his role as if he’s Sweden’s answer to the late, great JT Walsh. There’s also Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone and Sean Bean. I will say that it’s just a shame that one of the talented number bows out so early, but I shall not divulge who or by what means.
There’s a few little comic asides, such as early on when Spence (Sean Bean) asks Sam (De Niro): “You ever killed anybody?”, to which comes the reply: “I hurt someone’s feelings once(!)”
Watching this a second time, I marked it down from a 9/10 to an 8/10 as it gets a bit too silly and twisty-turny in the final act – certainly more so than I remember it, plus there’s Jonathan Pryce‘s ridiculous Irish accent, and while it’s all very cloak-and-dagger, it does feel a bit dated when people get shot and bright red ‘blood’ pours from their clothes, as if blood is really that colour. That said, I did wonder if John Frankenheimer was trying to echo the movies from the ’70s, especially since it’s shot like a stylish thriller from that decade, right down to the large Gothic font used in the credits.
The car-chases are nothing short of breath-taking – and still jaw-dropping almost 20 years on, whether it’s a chase through the narrow streets of Nice – which are basically no wider than the width of the car – or an exercise on how to drive safely through the Paris underpass. Of course, it made me think of The French Connection, although Frankenheimer did direct the sequel.
Overall, Ronin is a must-buy for anyone who likes an interesting film with a good cast. I love the director’s style when he sets out a number of scenes where both the foreground and the mid- or background are in focus at the same time. Plus, like a lot of TV series and films of the late ’90s and early ’00s, check out that door-opening sound. You’ll hear it several times. I remember it from a PC videogame released in the same year called SiN: Emergence, while it also featured in ITV’s Cold Feet.
The film is presented in the original 2.35:1 widescreen ratio and in 1080p high definition, and while it’s a mostly clean print, occasionally it suffers from a brief bit of haziness that we get from Arrow remasters from time to time. When the action’s fast, you don’t really notice it.
The audio is in DTS HD-MA 5.1, and there’s a fair number of split-surround moments when the action hots up.
The extras are as follows and there’s a great deal to get your teeth stuck into – new and old:
- Close-up (31:27): A new interview with cinematographer Robert Fraisse, recorded in March 2017, as he reflects on his career, including Emmanuelle and The Story of O.
- You Talkin’ To Me? (27:01): A 1994 Quentin Tarantino interview for Cinefile, where he praises Robert De Niro in his roles up to that point, including movie clips aplenty from the likes of Mean Streets and Taxi Driver.
- Alternative ending (1:49): Not a great deal different to the ending we did get, but it adds some information about the fate of a particular character.
- Theatrical Trailer (2:28): In the original theatrical widescreen ratio.
- Gallery: 37 on-set pictures.
- Audio commentary: A feature-length commentary from director Frankenheimer giving his insights on the making of the film.
- Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane (17:45): A making-of which was on the Region 2 DVD back in 1999, but this version loses around three minutes for no apparent reason. The original will have been rated by the BBFC at the time, so there’s no reason to shorten it. However, comparing the two, I see they’ve cut out archive ‘making of’ clips from Frankenheimer’s The Train (1964) and Grand Prix (1966) so it focuses solely on Ronin.
This and the following extras all come under the ‘archival features’ section of the extras menu.
- Through The Lens (17:57): A similar on-set making of, mixing clips from the film with chat, this time from the aforementioned Robert Fraisse. It makes for a nice companion piece to the new interview.
- The Driving of Ronin (15:29): Yep, all those car-related stunts, with stunt-car coordinator Jean-Claude Lagniez.
- Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process (13:57): The actress takes us through her time making the movie. Most of the archival extras are in 4:3, but this is in 16:9.
- Composing the Ronin Score (11:52): Elia Cmiral takes us through his experience with Ronin.
- In The Cutting Room (18:56): For this, it’s the turn of editor Tony Gibbs.
- Venice Film Festival Interviews (20:41): Various soundbites from De Niro, Reno and McElhone at the festival, some clips from those interviews we’ve seen in the other extras.
I can only review what’s present on the check disc, but if you buy this title, you’ll also get a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork, and a Collector’s booklet illustrated by Chris Malbon, featuring new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford.
The main menu features a short piece of the score set to clips from the film, there’s a bog-standard 12 chapters and subtitles are in English.
Ronin Special Edition is out now on Blu-ray and, and check out the full-size cover by clicking on the packshot.
Running time: 122 mins
Distributor: Arrow Films
Released: August 14th 2017
Picture: 1080p High Definition
Sound: DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio
Widescreen: 2.35:1 (Super 35)
Disc Format: BD50
Director: John Frankenheimer
Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr
Screenplay: JD Zeik and David Mamet (as Richard Weisz)
Music: Elia Cmiral
Sam: Robert De Niro
Vincent: Jean Reno
Deirdre: Natascha McElhone
Gregor: Stellan Skarsgård
Spence: Sean Bean
Larry: Skipp Sudduth
Jean-Pierre: Michael Lonsdale
Dapper Gent: Jan Tríska
Seamus O’Rourke: Jonathan Pryce
Man with the Newspaper: Ron Perkins
Mikhi: Féodor Atkine
Natacha Kirilova: Katarina Witt
Sergi: Bernard Bloch
Reviewer of movies, videogames and music since 1994. Aortic valve operation survivor from the same year. Running DVDfever.co.uk since 2000. Nobel Peace Prize winner 2021.