Wednesday, January 10, 2007

Movie Review: Ronin 4 Stars

In Ronin, director John Frankenheimer has orchestrated three of the most harrowing car chases since The French Connection. (Not coincidentally, Frankenheimer directed The French Connection II.) And that is not even best thing about this stark, intelligent action film.

Ronin--the Japanese word for a samurai without a master--describes the plight of the freelance soldiers-of-fortune in this film. In the post-Cold War era, former military and intelligence men work as hired guns, their services to the highest bidder.

In the film, an international team of covert mercenaries is assembled in France to steal an enigmatic briefcase, the contents of which are unknown. The routine mission goes awry as operatives from other espionage organizations vie for the briefcase, even infiltrating the ranks of our group. Sam (Robert De Niro) and Vincent (Jean Reno) must trust one another when they are doublecrossed, or so it seems, by Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) and the beautiful Irish woman who hired them, Dierdre (Natascha McElhone). The story is far too densely layered to do justice with a simple synopsis, and I don’t want to give too much away.

Frankenheimer, himself, assembled a top-notch cast of Ronins, some of the best international hired guns working in film. His action sequences–especially the magnificent car chases–were painstakingly shot over 23 days, shutting down the city of Nice for a good portion of the filming. Screenwriters JD Zeik and Richard Weisz gave De Niro’s wonderfully cryptic dialogue, filled with elliptical reasoning in such passages as “Whenever there is doubt, there is no doubt.” This Mamet-esque doublespeak only helped to further steep us in the mysterious underworld of distrust at the heart of this taut thriller.

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