At the time, Ronin premiered, I had never seen a John Frankenheimer film. To this day I’ve still only seen a handful like The Manchurian Candidate, Black Sunday and Prophecy. But that’s not really why I wanted to see Ronin anyway. I went mainly because of the car chases the trailer showed. That and some actor named Robert DeNiro.
I actually take that last part back, I really didn’t choose this film. Back in 1998 I signed up for a film symposium at my local Loews (now AMC) theatres. The brochure promised seeing upcoming films before their release dates and would have a bunch of filmmakers/actors/writers guest-speaking at these films. Well, it was mainly a total bust. The films I saw every Wednesday were coming out that weekend so it wasn’t like it was months ahead of their schedule. And I didn’t see or hear any filmmaker of worth either—it was always like a producer or writer no one cares about. And besides Ronin, the only other film I remember seeing that year was a melodrama starring Renee Zellweger and William Hurt called One True Thing. I may have skipped out on most of these duds and just stopped wasting my time. But Ronin was a pleasant surprise anyway.
With a great cast of international stars like Jean Reno, Jonathan Pryce, Stellen Skarsgard, Sean Bean and DeNiro, it’s surprising it’s one of those underrated barely seen action flicks. Probably because no one knows what the fuck a Ronin is! I believe a title screen describes it’s a masterless samurai but I’m not sure but regardless it has very little to do to describe what the film is about. So shame on the filmmakers for giving the title of this awesome action movie such an obscure name. I don’t know what it should be called though, maybe Hard Ticket to Paris?
But it is underrated for sure. Besides the two awesome car chases—the best of it’s kind really, I haven’t seen a car chase filmed this well without special effects since—the film is a very well written espionage/crime/action flick. It certainly helped that it was written by David Mamet. The late 90s were a renaissance of action flicks in my opinion. After all the silly Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Van Seagal films, we were starting to get more thought-out, intelligent and less-machismo action movies, like Mission: Impossible, The Bourne Identity and even The Rock. Ronin wasn’t boring and stuffy like a Jack Ryan movie your dad would watch and it wasn’t silly like a Lethal Weapon or a pre-Casino Royale James Bond flick either. It was perfectly in the middle and subsequently forgotten about. But just for the great car chases, it should get a look-see.
The notable aspect of these chase scenes is the total heart-pounding nature of it’s editing and pacing. Firstly, the chases are in total urban cities to give a heighten sense of danger. They also feature stunts, collisions, explosions and casualties of other hapless drivers which is rare for most common action flicks. Do you remember any one getting killed in The Matrix Reloaded car chase scene? I don’t. Plus, this final car chase scene is 7 minutes long! I also like how much you feel like a passenger in some of these shots and feel the panic raise up as you race along with them. Like I said, it’s tough to beat Ronin’s chase scenes.