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Ronin is entertaining from start to finish. The casting is excellent, the script flows, and it still appeals to a wide audience a quarter century later. Is it a gearhead movie? Well, at its heart, Ronin is a caper movie, more of a crime thriller, and less of a car movie. Except for two things: there are fantastic car chases, and John Frankenheimer directed Ronin, who previously directed Grand Prix in 1966, one of the greatest racing films in history.
In Paris, a group of mercenary thieves are recruited by a shadowy Irishwoman to intercept a convoy and steal a metal briefcase. What’s in the case remains a mystery throughout. The team is an international assortment of men with the skills, training, and mindset to pull off a job like this.
The hunt is on when one of the crew, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), pulls a double cross and steals the case for himself. Gregor, a German computer specialist with ties to the KGB, is oily, creepy, and about as trustworthy as a cheap ladder. Gregor is played to perfection by Skarsgård. The crew is now trying to find Gregor before he sells the case to another group of bad guys.
From here on out, Ronin is one long hunt across Southern France and back up through Paris that is thrillingly punctuated by two amazing chase scenes – one to get the case and another to get the case back – and throughout, loyalties and motivations shift between the characters.
Cast & Characters
Oohh baby, what a cast! Let’s start with the most obvious: Robert De Niro as Sam Regazolli. He is currently a mercenary, but there are hints that he used to work for the CIA. As always, De Niro is on point, and it was nice, at the time, to see him in a role outside the mafia.
Jean Reno plays Vincent, a French gunman who becomes fast friends with De Niro’s Sam. Reno is and always will be every inch a Frenchman; every gesture seems to be a shrug, and his entire persona is one of world-weariness punctuated by sighs. Slow to move and quick to shoot, Vincent is notto be messed with.
Natascha McElhone is Deirdre, a mysterious Irishwoman and IRA operative contracted to steal a briefcase by the devious and threatening Seamus O’Rourke. The normally affable Jonathan Pryce plays O’Rourke, a disturbing and violent sociopath who is hell-bent on getting that case.
Before The Lord of the Rings memes kicked in, we have Sean Bean playing Spence, an Englishman who is all talk, no competence, and a walking liability. It’s a shame to get typecast like this, but Bean has a knack for playing unlovable jerks. And let’s not overlook Skipp Sudduth as Larry, the American wheelman who performed most of his character’s stunt driving.
Behind The Chase Scenes
The script for Ronin is dense and heavy, and its writing and editing had plenty of Hollywood drama behind it. That probably has something to do with playwright David Mamet (Sexual Perversity in Chicago, American Buffalo, Glengarry Glen Ross) being attached to the movie, although John David Zeik is credited as a screenwriter too.
Otherwise, Ronin is tight and by the numbers. All the effects were practical and believable, most notably the driving scenes. It’s here where Frankenheimer really shows his stuff. He had British versions of the cars for the chase scenes. That way, he could have stunt drivers – or in Ronin’s case, ex-F1 driver Jean-Piere Jarrier – drive the cars while the actors sat behind dummy steering wheels and drove from the left-hand seat.
Frankenheimer delivers a master class in automotive sound and visual effects, especially when the BMW 5 Series and Peugeot 406 are on screen.
When a briefcase sought by Irish terrorists and the Russian mob makes its way into the wrong hands, a squad called Ronin is sent to get it back.
Year: 1998 Best Car Movies Class: Chase Scenes
Fun Fact: The “fish in the barrel” scene was nearly cut when filmmakers encountered inconsistent weather. They settled for wetting the road to give the impression it had rained. Although a law prohibited gunfire during photography in the early morning, French authorities gave the filmmakers an exemption. ~ IMDb
Should You Watch Ronin?
The nice thing about Ronin is that it works for gearheads and general audiences. You could suggest it for a movie night with friends while you geek out during the chase scenes. If you have never seen Ronin, or it’s been a while, it’s available for rent or streaming on Amazon Prime. DVD and Blu-ray copies are also available on Amazon.
Longtime Automoblog writer Tony Borroz has worked on popular driving games as a content expert, in addition to working for aerospace companies, software giants, and as a movie stuntman. He lives in the northeast corner of the northwestern-most part of the Pacific Northwest.