Why is it that movies featuring people involved in Intelligence always seem in short supply of that very ingredient? If one were to admire a movie simply for its technical polish, its proficiency of craftsmanship alone, then John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin” would find an elevated mantel of honor above the diminishing crowd of far less impressively wrought but eminently more substantial films. However, a motion picture of consequence requires more substantive attributes than a capable cast, razor sharp editing and an exhausting abundance of extremely well designed and shot action sequences (all of which “Ronin” has in spades); it also requires a minimum of creative acumen in plotting and character development to elevate the film above the generic equivalent of a cinematic B12 injection. In this regard, the film suffers from an acute case of artistic anemia; a circumstance that is particularly troublesome since the deficiencies of the film’s narrative coherence are a result of deliberate design.
The film is constructed as an elaborate series of chronically circuitous actions, which are propelled by motivations deliberately obscured through painfully colorful convolutions of dialogue (so unnaturally stylish that it is bluntly obvious that J.D. Zeik’s co-scenarist is none other than that master of chatter who effortlessly sacrifices subtleties and truth for an overly inflated quotability quotient: a pseudonymously concealed David Mamet), making even a marginal synopsis virtually impossible. A shadowy Irish lass named Dierdre (Natasha McElhone) assembles a group of five equally shadowy men- Sam (Robert DeNiro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), Larry (Skip Sudduth) and Spence (Sean Bean) -whose sole shared qualification (though this too is questionable) seems to be a résumé including service as a Cold War operative. The reason for their assemblage is the pursuit of a metal case, the contents of which continually come into question, but will forever remain unrevealed.
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I heard too many people complain about this film that I didn’t bother watching it. I should take a gander and decide for myself. Nice review.
You are right of course, Chandler. I read a review of this film that stated something like, “The biggest waste of one of the best casts ever”. A film-buff friend described it as “A series of individual set-pieces that are meaningless as a whole”. I am not about to defend it, and given time could easily pick it to pieces. Sean Bean’s awkward performance, Natasha McElhorne reprising every angry woman terrorist in film history, and the clumsy samurai reference that you illustrate so well.
The problem is, I really like this film. Call it a ‘guilty pleasure’, but I never fail to enjoy it.
So much for what I know!
Best wishes, Pete.