There is a conceit among several movers and shakers in the entertainment industry, that people are perfectly happy paying their hard-earned money for dumb entertainment. With completely straight faces, they put features on the screen that are little more than vehicles for a string of unrealistic shootouts linked by insincere acting, bouncing breasts, or both. Terminator: Salvation springs to mind from recent memory. If you’re not planting your tongue firmly in your cheek while you do this for the sake of paying homage to this genre, taking the piss out them, or both – I’m looking at you, Shoot ‘Em Up – you are clearly underestimating your audience.
John Frankenheimer’s Ronin takes these films by surprise, kicks their feet out from under them and ends them quickly with a single, expertly-placed bullet. It stars Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce.
After the Cold War, a lot of intelligence, counter-intelligence and paramilitary agents found themselves without work. Ronin begins as we meet several of these unemployed, smart and very dangerous people gathering in Paris for a job. The job is to retrieve a case. The case is vitally important to their mysterious employer and is being transported by some people who are even nastier than the protagonists.
While the plot might seem simple on the outset, and other films might use that simplicity as a vehicle for the aforementioned bullets and boobs, Ronin focuses on the characters rather than the case. Who are these people, and what motivates them? Everybody seems to have something to hide, and the ways in which they gather information, confront their opponents, and deal with their comrades is an espionage procedural worthy of Burn Notice, but without Michael Westen’s narration.
This isn’t just a character study, however, and there is plenty of blazing action to be had. It’s gritty, unapologetic and energized, with great camera work and a real awareness of the collateral damage involved in things like gunfights and car chases. And while I’m on the subject, I’m not exaggerating when I say the car chases in Ronin are some of the finest ever put on film. They stand on the same pedestal as the classics Bullit and The French Connection. All of this takes place on the impressive backdrop of modern Europe and the subtle acting combined with excellent technical direction keep the film from becoming dated. There’s an immediacy to it, and despite not knowing what’s in the case, we find ourselves eager to see what happens next.
Ronin is well worth your time if you like fast-paced action, well-written and well-acted interesting characters, fantastic film design & direction or movies that don’t underestimate the intelligence of their audience. It’s available through the standard Netflix queue or instantly.
Josh Loomis can’t always make it to the local megaplex, and thus must turn to alternative forms of cinematic entertainment. There might not be overpriced soda pop & over-buttered popcorn, and it’s unclear if this week’s film came in the mail or was delivered via the dark & mysterious tubes of the Internet. Only one thing is certain… IT CAME FROM NETFLIX.
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