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(1998) (Robert De Niro, Jean Reno) (R)

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Action/Thriller: An international group of covert operatives join forces in an attempt to steal a mysterious briefcase with none knowing who hired them, the motives of the others, or the contents of the briefcase.
Deirdre (NATASCHA McELHONE) is a mysterious Irish woman who has assembled an international group of covert operatives in Paris for a special mission. Joining Americans Sam (ROBERT DE NIRO), the most experienced of the bunch, and Larry (SKIPP SUDDUTH), the designated driver, are Vincent (JEAN RENO), the French coordinator, Gregor (STELLAN SKARSGARD), the Eastern Bloc electronics specialist, and Spence (SEAN BEAN), the English weapons specialist.

Other than Deirdre, none of the team members know who's hired them, the motives of the others, or the exact details of the mission, other than that they're to ambush a multi-car caravan and steal a coveted briefcase that's being heavily guarded.

After staking out their prey and establishing their plan in Nice, the group strikes and retrieves the briefcase, but things immediately go wrong. One of the group flees with the valuable item, and the chase begins. As allegiances change at the drop of a hat, the team members realize they can trust no one.

As the members attempt to retrieve the coveted case and its unknown contents, they discover that more operatives, including Russian businessman Mikhi (FEODOR ATKINE) and another mysterious fellow, Seamus (JONATHAN PRYCE), also want the briefcase and will kill anyone in their way.

Older teens may be drawn to the thriller plot, as might fans of anyone in the cast, but it's doubtful this will be high on most kids' "must see" lists.
For strong violence and some language.
  • ROBERT DE NIRO plays a mysterious American operative who takes charge of the operation. Along the way, he, like the others, kills some of the people protecting the briefcase (but after having been fired on by others).
  • JEAN RENO plays a French team member who allies himself with Sam in their effort to succeed at their mission.
  • NATASCHA McELHONE plays the mysterious woman who temporarily heads the operation before Sam essentially usurps her control.
  • The rest of the cast, including STELLAN SKARSGARD, SEAN BEAN, SKIPP SUDDUTH, JONATHAN PRYCE and FEODOR ATKINS play characters who also want the briefcase and will resort to deadly violence if necessary.


    OUR TAKE: 6.5 out of 10
    Awkwardly titled after the name given to ancient Japanese Samurai who roamed the land upon the death of the lords they were sworn to protect, "Ronin" is more akin to "Bullitt" than "Shogun." Featuring enough vehicular mayhem during its extended car chase sequences to fill several movies from the 70's when that cinematic device was most popular, the film is occasionally riveting and thrilling.

    Overall, however, it comes off as a somewhat muddled yarn that's more tease than delivery, and many viewers might be disappointed that the film and its mysterious and curiosity evoking beginning never really delivers.

    Any time a film tantalizes and teases the audience with a "what's in there" plot and then sustains and even builds upon that mystery, it had better deliver something grand for the long wait. Otherwise, everyone who sees it will be let down or -- worse yet -- annoyed that the "surprise" turned out to be anything but.

    Of course, the filmmakers could dredge up the excuse that it's not the goal that's important, but the effort and trip getting there itself that should prove to be most thrilling. While I won't divulge what approach the film takes, it should be noted that the end result is only partially satisfying.

    Despite the feared return of the rock 'em, sock 'em car chase and crash moments, many of them -- along with other action scenes -- are handled quite well and are highly effective. That should come as no surprise since the movie is helmed by veteran director John Frankenheimer, who's delivered such great films as "The Manchurian Candidate" and "Birdman of Alcatraz." Of course, he also brought us 1996's remake of "The Island of Dr. Moreau," so no one's perfect, but this film falls somewhere in between.

    All of which is a shame because some moments of it are so good. An early scene -- that finally gives the film the "Mission: Impossible" feel it so desperately wants and needs -- involves De Niro and the stunningly beautiful Natasha McElhone posing as spouses while staking out their targets. Getting a hotel visitor to take snapshots of them posing in front of the door, Sam manages to get photos of the entourage and even sets up the faked sound of an attack to get their well-rehearsed reactions all on film. It's a nicely executed scene, and one only wishes more of them were present.

    Instead, Frankenheimer mounts some elaborately staged car chase sequences that nearly rival Steve McQueen's famous one in "Bullitt." While we dread the return of such mayhem, the scenes are effectively managed here -- and are often quite thrilling -- until they begin to literally throw in so many instances of cars and trucks smashing into other cars that you begin to think you're watching John Landis direct yet another "Blues Brothers" film (where multi-car pileups are a requirement).

    The action sequences certainly make the film easy to watch, but not any easier to follow. With the numerous villains, their plans, and the switching of allegiances being handled in somewhat of a muddled fashion, the end result often leaves the viewer pondering exactly what's occurring.

    Once that's figured out, you come to the realization that there's nothing present that's overly exhilarating. While one imagines -- and hopes -- the film will be filled with characters continually double-crossing the other -- some of which does occur -- such material is less than thrilling or surprising.

    At least that's not as bad as the long and drawn out opening sequences. While they're supposed to elicit great curiosity about what's unfolding, a little bit of that can go a long way and Frankenheimer, working from a screenplay by J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz (the latter being playwright turned filmmaker David Mamet via pseudonym disguise), drags out these moments well beyond their welcome.

    A little teasing is fine, but to start the movie with such long, mysterious scenes where practically nothing is explained -- on purpose -- begins to grate on one's nerves, and is exacerbated by never really explaining much even by the story's end.

    Fortunately -- for both the movie and the audience -- the film features a superb cast, and the great Robert De Niro is obviously the main draw. Having a track record of many tremendous and famous performances in the past ("Raging Bull," "Taxi Driver," and on and on), it's enjoyable to watch him command the screen and easily hold our attention while we wait for something to happen.

    French actor Jean Reno ("Mission: Impossible," "The Professional") -- always a perfect character actor for films such as this -- is as good as ever, while Stellan Skarsgard ("Good Will Hunting," "Breaking the Waves") and the always radiant Natascha McElhone ("The Truman Show," "Surviving Picasso") also deliver good performances.

    My only disappointment with the cast involves Sean Bean ("Patriot Games," "Goldeneye"), not due to a bad performance, but because he prematurely leaves the story and his thespian volatile presence is missed, although there are plenty of "villains" to go around.

    Decent but not great, the film offers some effectively and elaborately staged set pieces and a tremendous cast, but isn't quite as good as one would expect or hope. Just as composer Elia Cmiral's ("Apartment Zero") score is occasionally a bit too heavy handed at infusing mood and tension when nothing's really happening to justify the music, overall the film often feels the same way.

    Led along by the McGuffin-laden briefcase, the picture pleads to be something akin to "Mission: Impossible," and while a few elements of that do get through, one only wishes that more of such fun trickery were present. We give "Ronin" a 6.5 out of 10.

    Bloody violence and profanity highlight what most will probably find objectionable with this film. Several prolonged gun battle sequences occur where many people are shot and killed or wounded. A few car chase scenes also occur, and more people and property are killed/injured/damaged during them (and the results of both types of scenes are often bloody).

    Profanity is extreme with more than 10 "f" words occurring, as well as a few select others. Besides the violent gun battles and car chase scenes, other moments are also tense and suspenseful, including a bloody, non-professional medical operation that may be rather unsettling to some viewers. If you're concerned about the film's appropriateness, you may want to take a closer look at the content we've listed.

  • Sam has a small drink in a cafe as the team assembles.
  • A man offers Sam a drink before Vincent operates on him, but Sam declines, and we later see this man with a drink.
  • Seamus pours himself a drink.
  • During a gun battle we briefly see the entry impact of bullets as they hit bodies (but nothing that's particularly bloody).
  • We see Spence throw up from nerves after a gun battle.
  • Some people who are shot in another gun battle are bloody, and we see blood on the windshields of cars, etc...
  • Larry's leg is rather bloody from where he was shot during a gun battle.
  • A large amount of blood splatters onto a car window when someone is shot inside.
  • We see a man whose throat has been slit -- resulting in a large and bloody gash on his neck.
  • We see a bloody bullet hole wound in Sam's side and then see Vincent cut into that wound with a scalpel to retrieve the bullet. Beyond the initial blood, more blood flows out from the "operation," and the sight of the scalpel cut and instruments into the wound may be more than some can tolerate.
  • Gregor's mouth and face are bloody after being beaten.
  • Several people in a car wreck are quite bloody.
  • We see a small, bloody bullet hole in a man's head.
  • Several more people who've been shot are bloody.
  • Obviously, everyone involved in protecting or stealing the briefcase has both as they're all ready to kill for it (and many do), and many people change alliances during the film.
  • Scenes listed under "Violence" may also be tense to some viewers, including the many gun battles and extended car chase sequences (one that ends with people being pulled from a burning car before it explodes).
  • Several team members go to buy weapons and meet with some mysterious men on a darkened Parisian street. The several minute scene -- where things get more risky as time passes by -- ends in a gunfight where many of the other men are shot and killed.
  • A man comes up behind Deirdre on an escalator as tense music plays.
  • A prolonged scene where Sam has Vincent cut open his bullet wound with a scalpel and then retrieve the bullet through the open wound -- all without anesthesia -- will probably be unsettling to some viewers.
  • We see a silhouetted sniper following an ice skater with a rifle.
  • Handguns/Machine guns/Grenade launchers: Used to threaten, wound, or kill others. See "Violence" for details.
  • Phrase: "Ballocks."
  • A car chase scene takes place going down the wrong side of a freeway.
  • None.
  • The film is filled with a heavy and ominous sounding theme throughout, with individual scenes having even more suspenseful or action-oriented music in them.
  • None.
  • At least 12 "f" words (although a few are questionable as they occurred during a loud gunfight scene), 1 "s" word, 3 hells, 2 asses (used with "hole," but these are also questionable since they likewise occurred in the gun battle), and 1 use each of "G-damn," "Christ" and "Oh Christ" as exclamations.
  • Deirdre shows just a tiny bit of cleavage in one of her outfits.
  • We briefly see some women in their bras in a dressing room.
  • Vincent smokes throughout the film, Larry smokes quite often, and Sam and Spence smoke a few times.
  • None.
  • Exactly what was in the briefcase, and whether that's important to the story.
  • The symbolism of doing a job without really knowing the who's, what's and why's pertaining to it.
  • Sam fires at a sniper ready to shoot Spence and Vincent, and a big gun battle breaks out between the team and the men they were about to buy weapons from, with both parties using handguns and machine guns. During this, several other men are hit and presumably killed by the gunfire.
  • Sam grabs Spence and pins him to a table during an early disagreement.
  • Sam shoots a grenade (or something similar) at the lead car in the caravan and it explodes. People then get out of the other cars and open fire and Sam and the others return fire at them, resulting in several men being shot (and presumably killed) along with some bystanders in this several minute sequence.
  • During a car chase scene, Sam fires another grenade at a car, causing it to explode. A second car is then knocked off the road and the two remaining cars bump into each other down a narrow mountain road. Later, the cars run over and crash into many tables and chairs in a sidewalk market, and then strike many bystanders.
  • At the end of the car chase, Larry shoots one of the other men and another big gun battle breaks out with many bullets shot back and forth (with more people being shot). A fake briefcase explodes under a car, causing it to explode. We later see that Larry was shot in the leg.
  • Gregor shoots a man after both hold their guns on each other in a car.
  • Sam holds his gun on a team member who's turned bad, and then chases him through an outdoor arena where he eventually jumps on him and both go over a railing and then struggle for a gun. Others hold guns on the "bad guys," who then turn the tables and shoot at them, hitting several bystanders. Sam then shoots one of them dead.
  • A man is about to shoot Vincent when Sam distracts him. The man gets off a shot that wounds Sam, and Vincent shoots the man dead.
  • We see a man whose throat has been slit -- resulting in a large and bloody gash on his neck.
  • Seamus repeatedly punches Gregor and then knees him in the gut.
  • Another car chase sequence follows where a police car is hit causing it to flip over in a tunnel. After that, many cars (and one truck) crash into each other (with some explosions) and a motorcyclist is hit. Seamus then shoots at Sam and Vincent, but hits another driver instead whose car slams into a pillar and explodes. Vincent shoots back, eventually blows out a tire, and the other car overturns and falls from a bridge. We then see the wounded and bloody occupants who are pulled out just before the car explodes (moments after Sam shoots at one of them).
  • Sam knocks out a doorman to gain entry into a room. Vincent then does the same to another one.
  • A man shoots another man in the head and a sniper shoots another person.
  • Several more people are shot (and wounded or killed) during the climatic finale.

  • Reviewed September 2, 1998

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