Tuesday, July 29, 2008

RONIN - stylish, emminently quotable thriller

John Frankenheimer, best known for THE BIRDMAN OF ALCATRAZ and THE MANCHURIAN CANDIDATE, has since worked steadily and in 1998 gave us the thriller RONIN. Based on a script from newcomer J D Zeik, the film is replete with stylish one-liners thanks, one presumes, to script-doctor David Mamet. And it helps that these one-liners are delivered by the eminently nonchalant Robert de Niro. Nonchalant even when he's talking a criminal through digging a bullet out of his side on a kitchen table.

The plot isn't much to write home about. There's a briefcase. It's a MacGuffin. All you need to know is that the Russians and the IRA both want it. So the IRA (Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce - both with distractingly risible accents) hire a motley crew of internationals to steal it. They comprise de Niro, Sean Bean (acting well!), Stellan Skarsgard, Skip Sudduth and Jean Reno. They run around France looking moody, exchanging witty dialogue, double-crossing each other and generally being cool. Every now and then, to relieve the tension, we get a high speed car chase of the kind that has since been reinvented by THE BOURNE films.

Let me be clear - you don't watch RONIN for plot, character development, good accents or anything else. You watch it for the mood and the dialogue. That more than repays a viewing.

Sam (de Niro): Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt. That's the first thing they teach you.
Vincent (Jean Reno): Who taught you?
Sam: I don't remember. That's the second thing they teach you.

RONIN played Venice 1998 and was released that year. It is available on DVD and on iTunes.

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