Thursday, April 10, 2008

Ronin

"Ronin" (John Frankenheimer, 1998) John Frankenheimer's long directorial career started out with him as a young television "turk," who wasn't afraid to be controversial or veer into the surreal. Early works like "The Manchurian Candidate" (the earlier, better one), "Seven Days in May" and "Seconds" (Rock Hudson's finest hour) showed a film-maker not afraid to tackle political and social issues in an entertaining, often satirical way. He'd veer off into odd territory like "Grand Prix," and "The Gypsy Moths," where the indifferent material would win out over his film-making expertise. The films would be a technical marvel, but descend into soap-opera when not behind the wheel, or falling through space. On ocassion, he'd even hit the skids ("Prophecy," "The Extraordinary Seaman," "99 and 44/100% Dead"). But then, there are his thrillers, like "Black Sunday," and even "French Connection II" (which had Gene Hackman's "Popeye" Doyle in France to track "Frog One") that in their final acts are primers on how to stage chases and action finale's--bare-boned, fast-paced and visceral. "Ronin" was like an entire final act--lean and mean, with no fancy motivations and cryptic dialogue. Even the point is obscure--it is never established what is in that suitcase that everybody wants, nor does it matter. They just want it, and are willing to plot, and double-cross and double-deal to get it. The characterizations are on the thin side--people just have their jobs to do, and their marks and targets to hit. And the cast is superb. Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Natascha McElhone (where's she been?), Stellan Skarsgard, Michael Lonsdale, and Jonathan Pryce, all doing professional, unsentimental work. The set-pieces are amazing, especially a car chase through the Paris tunnels. But just as much care goes into the staging of the planing. If anybody wants to see how the "Mission:Impossible" franchise should be done, this movie is the model.

1 comment:

gday said...

I thought I was the only one who loved this movie. I remember seeing it Montreal (not sure why it matters) and leaving the theatre just wanting to drive really, really fast.
Best driving scenes ever. Period. We even used one of the chase scenes as a reference point for an episode of "Gary & Mike" - nothing like a car chase in stop-motion animation with 10"tall puppets.
And the suitcase...another classic MacGuffin. Glad to see directors keeping the tradition alive.
Plus an ensemble cast that should always work together. Imagine a company of actors like that just appearing in whatever story comes along...

Brilliant!