De Niro's typecasting notwithstanding, Ronin, written by newcomer
J.D. Zeik, is actually a very suspenseful, intelligent thriller, and another
nice addition to director Frankenheimer's impressive catalogue.
"Ronin," we learn at the film's opening, are former Samurai
warriors from ancient Japanese folklore, who have been dishonored by the
murder of their master the one whom they were sworn to protect. No
longer honored with the term Samurai, they wandered the countryside, looking
for work as mercenaries or sushi bar waiters. De Niro's character, Sam,
is a modern-day example of one such type. A former cold-war CIA killer,
out of luck in the present-day climate of U.S./Russian détente, he
must find work as he can among other mutually antagonistic peoples. And
he does so in Paris.
Sam meets a beautiful Irish woman named Dierdre (Natascha McElhone, last
seen in The Truman Show), who hires
him and several other high-priced hitmen to steal a metallic carrying case
from some people who really don't want to part with it. No one but
Dierdre and her mysterious boss (Jonathan Pryce) knows what's in the case,
but since it's handcuffed to a guy and protected by about a dozen heavily
armed goons, we assume it must be pretty important. Besides, someone (also
unknown) is prepared to pay an outrageous sum for it.
One of the few people on the mission that Sam trusts is a fellow named
Vincent (Jean Reno), though they have little idea how much they will be
depending on each other's loyalty in the days to come. The allegiances in
this group are traded around like baseball cards after one of the guys (Stellan
Skarsgård) gets the case and doesn't want to share. After several
long, fast car chases through French cities and lots of dead bodies, the
group arrives at an ice skating venue in Arles, and we arrive at the climax.
A cameo appearance is made at this time by Olympic skating star Katarina
Witt, who plays Natacha Kirilova, the featured Russian skater at the huge
Perhaps the most disappointing feature of this well-acted and -directed film is the unsatisfying ending. The whole plot seems to revolve around what's in the case, and when you hear that question answered, you may want your money back. But if you're interested in good action and good acting, and you're a fan of De Niro's tough guy persona, you'll not be disappointed. ****
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