- Rated R
- Buy the Blu-ray
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
here shouldn’t be any doubt as to whether or not a guy like Robert De Niro is a film legend, but by the end of the 1990s, the veteran actor did make some pretty interesting career moves. Clearly sick and tired of playing the hardboiled gangster-type in movies like “Goodfellas" and “Casino,” De Niro decided he’d test the waters as a comic actor. But before selling his soul to the Devil (i.e. “The Adventures of Rocky & Bullwinkle”), he made a cool little crime thriller called “Ronin.” Released in 1998 and starring an ensemble cast including the likes of Jean Reno, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce, “Ronin” may not be the best thriller around, but it features great action and one of the coolest car chases captured on film.
De Niro stars as Sam, a former U.S. Intelligence agent who’s been hired by the IRA to track down and steal a top secret briefcase before the owner sells it to the highest bidder. Joining Sam in the heist are five other mercenaries: Irish team leader Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), French supplier Vincent (Reno), German techie Gregor (Stellan Skasgard), British weapons specialist Spence (Bean), and American getaway driver Larry (Skipp Sudduth). Betrayal and deception are lurking around every corner, however, and Sam isn’t about to be bested by a couple of amateurs looking to make a quick buck. He needs this paycheck; bad. And he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure he gets his due.
Much like the classic crime thrillers of the ‘60s and ‘70s (think “Mission: Impossible” and “The French Connection”), “Ronin” is less about being able to comprehend what’s going on, and more about sitting back and having a good time. In fact, the story jumps around so much throughout its 121-minute runtime that you’ll almost certainly lose interest midway through. The briefcase switches hands more times than anyone would care to keep track of, and with the departure of one character comes the introduction of another, not to mention new plot twists that have little effect on the outcome of the story.
What’s so great about “Ronin,” though, is that the movie never takes itself as seriously as it should. Instead, the film is best enjoyed as an homage to the crime genre, and director John Frankenheimer does an impeccable job with the material. The set pieces aren’t flashy, but to the point, and the film’s stunt driving rivals that of “Bullit” and “The Bourne Identity.” De Niro and Reno also punch in respectable performances as the “good guys” of the story, but their development is so limited that it’s difficult to invest in their characters. This is a guilty pleasure, no doubt, and could probably rank among De Niro’s less significant films, but it’s also a modern classic deserving of some attention.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Though the two-disc special edition DVD was packed with hours of bonus material, including a director commentary, a making-of featurette and more, the Blu-ray edition has been stripped down to include only the movie. It's disappointing to say the least, because if Fox isn't going to give every title a fair shake, why bother releasing it at all?