Imagine being locked in a dark warehouse somewhere in Europe, forced to work with people you don’t trust in order to serve the needs of someone whose identity you will never decipher. Imagine that the prize — what it could be, you may never find out — is the goal, that it’s discreetly every man (and a woman) for him/herself. Imagine, if you can, being one twitch of your trigger finger away from killing the woman you only just kissed, in order to save your own life from the diabolical grip of one of your supposed own.
Then hit your nearest multiplex and see the whole thing for yourself.
Directed by John Frankenheimer and starring one Robert DeNiro, “Ronin” is a real shark in the water, a moviegoing experience that is not to be missed.
DeNiro stars as Sam, a CIA Yank who joins a proverbial all-world squad of intelligence. The mission? Find a briefcase, the contents of which are as mysterious as the players involved. If that sounds vague to you, don’t feel bad, for you know as much as they do. But while the task is simple, interpreting the task and sharing the reward is another matter entirely. And that’s when people start playing dirty.
DeNiro has been on a serious roll all career long. With Sam, he delivers once again. It is a breath of fresh air for a genre that is drowning. A subtle yet intense forerunner who often plays his cards too dangerously for his own good, Sam is devilishly slick sometimes, a brutal novice others. Best of all, he doesn’t hide it, making for a hero that’s impossible not to root for.
But while DeNiro shines as the featured player, he is not alone. Rather, “Ronin” boasts a loaded ensemble of complex, colorful personalities whose motivations change as their fates dictate the way. Vincent (Jean Reno, the only thing worth watching in “Godzilla” and a terrific supporting player here) is a clever frenchman who slowly befriends Sam. Throughout the movie, they are the Batman and Robin of the international set, taking turns saving each other’s lives and finishing each other’s thoughts.
Deidre (Natasha McElhone from “The Truman Show”) is the tenacious head of the group, and she gels wonderfully into the role. For what seems like the first time ever, Hollywood has created a tough female leader who really is tough. Cynical? Just wait until you see her behind the wheel, driving against rush-hour traffic, dodging bewildered motorists like a one-chance game of Asteroids.
Stellan Skarsgard stars as Gregor, a seemingly innocent (although as one quickly learns, “seemingly” is as innocent as these characters get) electronics specialist. He plays his role sharply, slowly building his anger like a kid who’s been kidnapped and suddenly wants in on the ransom. Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) is a little more transparent as one of the bad guys, but is no less fun to watch; you cannot help but wonder, even in Hollywood, how he lives as long as he does. Rounding out the main cast of players, Spence (Sean Bean) provides the hooligan flavor, full of power and spark but low on intellect.
“Ronin” will not save Hollywood or start any cinematic revolution, but the flick is big-time fun, a whimsical piece that uses its environment as another character, a thriller that actually thrills. The movie is an unforgettable piece of intense humanitarianism, a delicate character study that ticks like a time bomb in the wrong hands. Stacked against its contemporaries, it stands as the only movie you absolutely must see this fall.