Monday, August 6, 2012

3 Shrt Pgrphs: Ronin

1998, John Frankenheimer -- DVD

Ronin is one of the best films of the 1990's, and is also one of my favourite films.  I don't think this often, except when I'm watching the movie or immediately thereafter.  It's a rare and special film that can suck you in with each repeated watching, but even more rare one that can evoke a sense of discovery every viewing.  I've seen Ronin over half a dozen times now (I haven't really been keeping count) but each time I'm just as mesmerized by the nuances and intricacies of the plot and stimulated by the vagaries therein.  It's not that the film is incredibly dense, nor exceedingly complex, but what makes Ronin so provoking is how little exposition it contains.  Frankenheimer leaves almost all the heavy lifting up to the actors, and there's as much said in the quiet moments as there is in the dialogue.

The cast of Ronin is astounding.  This is one of Robert DeNiro's best on-screen performances, bolstered by the international supporting cast of Jean Reno, Natasha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgars, and an exceptionally twitchy Sean Bean.  Together with Frankenheimer they capture the spirit of sword-for-hire samurai films of the 60's and 70's replacing them with stoic, mysterious mercenaries, united for a task they're committed to by both money and pride, having to rely upon each other, but never fully trusting.  Though shot in the late-1990s, the film retains a quasi-timeless feel.  Frankenheimer's old-school directing style is far more patient than the majority of action filmmaking today and it lends the film a '60's sensabilty as much as a '90's.  Shots are held and the editing is minimal and purposeful.

My strongest recollections of the film were always of the spectacular chase sequences, a Frankenheimer specialty, but in this latest discovery I found the chases to be less impressive.  With the budgets being placed behind action films in the past decade, chase sequences have become even more elaborate and mesmerizing.  Ronin's are still fantastic, but are no longer the centerpiece of the film.  Taking the `wow`factor out of the action leaves all the many other exceptional elements of the film to bubble to the fore.