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movie reviewmovie reviewmovie review out of 4 Movie Review: Ronin

Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno
Director: John Frankenheimer
Rated: R
RunTime: 118 Minutes
Release Date: September 1998
Genres: Action, Suspense, Thriller

Review by Walter Frith
2½ stars out of 4

John Frankenheimer's films are always perplexing. They have a sharp yet ordinary look to them and they still manage to entertain highly. Frankenheimer's (and Frank Sinatra's) 'The Manchurian Candidate' from 1962 is perhaps the best espionage thriller ever made and Frankenheimer's work as director on other films such as 'Birdman of Alcatraz' (1962), 'Grand Prix' (1966), the disappointing but well meaning 'The French Connection II' (1975) and 'Black Sunday' (1977) have put him in an important light in the chapters of film history. Frankenheimer doesn't always like to use a lot of music in his films because his gripping plot lines can sing a different tune.

'Ronin' is a film that makes Robert De Niro look great. His character is an enigma and De Niro plays it exactly that way. We assume that he is or has been some sort of covert operator earlier in his life who is now working in Europe with a group of others in the same business who are all of different nationalities. There is the Frenchman (Jean Reno) who De Niro strikes up an off beat friendship with. An Irish woman (Natascha McElhone) and her companion (Jonathan Pryce), an ex-KGB computer whiz (Stellan Skarsgard), a weapons specialist (Sean Bean) and the group's driver (Skipp Sudduth).

They're all working together to obtain a mysterious steel suitcase which contains something worth killing for and before its sold to a group of high bidding Russians, the attempts to get it make for the film's best action sequences. The film's beginning and first half hour are extremely simple and Frankenheimer turns the heat up slowly, comparable to watching a pot of water boil on your stove. Slow but worth the wait. The rhythm the film has is genuine in all its clever little tidbits as the little things in this film truly count as much as the big things do.

Exquisite European photography is the setting as Paris is the film's central focus for the story and Frankenheimer uses his camera like a bullet at times and stretches every action sequence's tension out to its fullest extent.

De Niro's early work in the movies looked extremely low-key. His performances in 'The Godfather Part II' (1974) and 'Taxi Driver' (1976) had De Niro doing a lot of method acting without a lot of emotion in his roles, sort of like Gary Cooper. Both of those actors and their subtle ways actually had great strength. Certainly, those roles were much different than De Niro's roles in 'The King of Comedy' (1983) and 'Cape Fear' (1991) where De Niro never did let up with those "in your face" type of performances. 'Ronin' is vintage De Niro. A film where De Niro can give a good, low-key performance while giving the rest of the cast their fair share of the spotlight and a film where director John Frankenheimer can still exhibit his style as one of film's best espionage directors. A style that along with De Niro's, works for all generations.

Copyright 2000 Walter Frith

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