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The Cold War may be over, but a new world order keeps a group of covert mercenaries employed by the highest bidder. These operatives, known as "Ronin," are assembled in France by a mysterious client for a seemingly routine mission: steal a top-secret briefcase. But the simple task soon proves explosive asother underworld organizations vie for the same prize...and to get the job done, the members of Ronin must do something they've never done before...trust each other.
For more about Ronin and the Ronin Blu-ray release, see Ronin Blu-ray Review published by Martin Liebman on March 4, 2009 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.5 out of 5.
Director: John Frankenheimer
Writers: Richard Weisz, J.D. Zeik, David Mamet
Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth
» See full cast & crew
Ronin Blu-ray Review
John Frankenheimer's masterful Action film is now on a hit-or-miss Blu-ray.
Reviewed by Martin Liebman, March 4, 2009
No questions, no answers. That's the business we're in.
Ronin is the last great film from the late director John Frankenheimer, whose additional credits include a slew of smart, classy thrillers, including The French Connection II, Seven Days in May, and The Manchurian Candidate. Ronin continues in the tradition of the director's best works, and serves as a blueprint for budding and established filmmakers both on what exactly makes for a fantastic Action film. It's one of those rare cinematic occurrences where everything comes together in near-perfect harmony. Considering the talent both in front of and behind the camera, talent that includes not only director Frankenheimer but also David Mamet (Redbelt) penning the script and Robert Fraisse (Seven Years in Tibet) serving as the film's Director of Photography, not to mention an A-list cast, headlined by Robert DeNiro (Raging Bull), it should come as no surprise that Ronin is a masterpiece of Action. Of course, the film enjoyed only moderate success at the domestic box office, but has since come into its own on home video and garnered a well-deserved level of attention and respect from film aficionados everywhere.
A group of for-hire mercenaries come together to retrieve a suitcase for the mysterious Deirdre (Natascha McElhone, The Devil's Own). Among the mercenaries are a group of highly trained covert operatives and weapons experts -- Sam (DeNiro), Vincent (Jean Reno, Flyboys), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård, Beowulf & Grendel), Spence (Sean Bean, Patriot Games), and Larry (Skipp Sudduth, Money Train). They will be paid $5,000 per week with a guaranteed minimum of four weeks work. They will ambush and assault two or three vehicles and face five to eight well-armed men in their effort to retrieve the case. As the mission moves through its planning stages, Sam becomes concerned with the lack of concrete information and some of the team's ability to effectively stage an ambush. Matters are complicated when an arms deal goes bad and the Russians make a move on the case, meaning the deadline for the ambush must move up. When the team executes the ambush but is betrayed by one of their own, the chase is on for both the traitor and the case.
As noted above, Ronin enjoys an enormous amount of talent attached to its credits. Not only is the film slickly directed, expertly-penned, and terrifically scored (courtesy of Elia Cmiral), but it boasts one of the best ensemble casts ever to grace an Action film, and each actor seemingly becomes the character they portray. Each is mysterious in their own right, with vastly differing backgrounds, attitudes, perceptions, and skills, all defined by every snippet of information offered through the script, from those they ally themselves with to the weapons they carry. Robert DeNiro, clearly, is the star of the show, a man who is all business but maintains a calm and collected demeanor. He's former CIA, a man who is highly skilled in his trade and respects the business and those around him -- providing they do right by him. He's a man of basic needs, choosing to carry at the beginning of the film a tried-and-true model 1911 handgun, believing that if it has served his country well, it will serve him well. He's observant and steadfast, a man who speaks his mind regardless of how others may react to what he has to say. He's meticulous, dedicated, and steady -- but crossing him is an unpardonable offense, and he'll spare no expense to set things straight. Ronin also sees first-rate efforts from Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, and Sean Bean in a rather peculiar role.
Ronin is a terribly tense film, from the opening moments where characters are set-up and introduced and onward. Even through the calmer, non-action oriented scenes, there is much to behold as the actors may be seen studying their environments and one another, mentally sizing everything up -- planning escape routes and determining who is trustworthy by examining body language and dialect. The film creates just the right atmosphere, one that is dark and mysterious, with the characters displaying a level of awareness, uncertainty, confidence, yet perhaps even a bit of fear as their new co-workers and their objective come into focus. The tension the film enjoys from the beginning onward never relents until the credits roll. The movie is so straightforward that it feels almost like something of a novel cinematic experience; audiences will watch the tale unfold with no pomp and circumstance, no forced laughs, no needless characters, no worthless banter, and no romantic angles that interfere with the story, drag it down, or play other than when absolutely necessary to the plot. Ronin simply creates and tells a straight story that is both engaging and exciting without the usual Hollywood fluff.
Above all else, Ronin is an Action film, and besides the running tension, fantastic character development, and insistence on remaining focused on its plot, the film features action sequences that form the foundation of the experience. Ronin offers audiences fantastic gunplay that oozes realism. The various makes and models of firearms the characters use and their professional handling and understanding of their capabilities in particular circumstances allows the film to rise above the competition and respect the intelligence of its audience, not to mention the laws of physics and firearms. The highlights of the film, of course, are the incredible and extended car chase sequences that, unlike Vanishing Point, a fine film in its own right, take place in tight city streets and back alleys with plenty of natural and unnatural obstacles to raise the level of danger in each scene. Both the shootouts and the car chases are simply a pleasure to behold. They are smartly staged, well-scripted, expertly played out, and both a tribute to the Action genre and an example of how this sort of action -- that which emotes intelligence and excitement all at once --should be done. Ronin may well be the epitome of the smart Action film.
Ronin Blu-ray, Video Quality
Ronin represents something of a blast from the past from Fox/MGM; this 1080p presentation of the film features the antiquated MPEG-2 video codec while framed inside a 2.35:1 window. All things considered, the transfer could have been worse. Detail is solid, but unexceptional. Faces reveal a bit of texture and lines, as do clothing. The image appears slightly hazy at times, gray and dim, and flesh tones display something of a ghastly appearance early in the film, but later take on a redder appearance. Detail fluctuates at times, and the image appears overly soft in several instances. Black levels fluctuate from a very dark shade of gray to rock-solid. The film retains quite a bit of grain that spikes in several scenes. The print doesn't feature all that many blemishes, but like the grain, the presence of spots and debris spikes in certain scenes. Naturally-lit daytime scenes fare the best, featuring a strong and stable color palette, moderate detail, accurate flesh tones, and visible yet minimal film grain. Ronin is nothing more than an acceptable Blu-ray transfer. It certainly isn't ugly or poor; it's simply mediocre, hit-or-miss, and rather disappointing overall.
Ronin Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Ronin makes its long-awaited U.S. debut on Blu-ray with a powerful DTS-HD MA 5.1 lossless soundtrack, easily serving as the technical highlight of the package. Dialogue is slightly hard to hear at times, particularly during the film's opening act. Music isn't played with much vigor, and it's presented primarily across the front. The track picks up nicely during the early action sequences, but still doesn't deliver the aggressive, heart-stopping, clear soundtrack one might expect, and that is heard later on. Gunshots ring out with what seems to be a slight lack of authority, but the more hard-hitting music spills nicely from the speakers. Sound effects -- the revving of car engines and the movement of high speed vehicles around the soundstage -- offer a nice experience, oftentimes accompanied by a fair amount of bass, but none of it really makes for a first-class listening experience. The track picks up considerably in chapter 14 and onward as the chase for the suitcase begins. Gunfire erupts loudly and precisely, explosions rock the foundation, and the surround speakers kick into overdrive with plenty of discrete effects. Of note is a tunnel chase/shootout in chapter 25; a few gunshots reverberate through the soundstage with alarming clarity and power, and the speeding vehicles, too, allow the viewer to practically experience the thrill of the chase first-hand. When it counts, Ronin sounds fantastic on Blu-ray and the latter half of the film more than makes up for the early sequences, but a few minor blemishes keep it from receiving a perfect score.
Ronin Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Like its video transfer, this release of Ronin takes viewers back in time to when Fox/MGM offered little-to-no bonus materials on their Blu-ray releases; this one, most unfortunately, follows the old trend, offering only 1080p trailers for Ronin, The Usual Suspects, Walking Tall, and Out of Time.
Ronin Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Ronin is an excellent Action picture that is equal parts smart and exciting. It presents viewers with well-written and expertly-acted characters, a script that takes the time to do right by the Action, steady direction, great cinematography, and a score that compliments each scene nicely. Robert DeNiro is at the top of his game, and the star has now appeared in two of the very best Action films the 1990s have to offer, Ronin and Heat, each film a testament to attention to detail and smart storytelling. Ultimately, Ronin underwhelms on Blu-ray. It's not that this is necessarily a bad disc, but it could have been much better. The disc features a lackluster video transfer and virtually no supplements. In the disc's defense, the audio track is generally spectacular, and most importantly, the movie is fantastic, and that's what matters most. Considering the way the title was knocked around, added to and dropped from release lists, it's worth picking up at the right price now that it is actually on store shelves. Recommended.
Ronin: Other Editions
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