Ronin (1998)

(In theaters, September 1998) In many ways a throwback to the bare-bone spy thrillers of years past, as given away by the less-than-perfect lettering at the end. The plot is irrelevant, the goal is unknown but the acting is solid and the action scenes are shot is a way that’s not too confusing or hectic. Granted, there are plot holes here and there, as well as details that should have been spelled out, but Ronin is so well-executed that you might not care, except for the lacklustre finale. The two car chases are among the best action sequences seen this year, and the acting of De Niro and Jean Reno is superb as usual. Ronin has a feel that’s significantly different from most other action movies released this year, and should be seen if only for that.

(Second viewing, On DVD, November 2000) The very good and the rather disappointing intersect in this quasi-seventies thriller by legendary directory John Frankenheimer. The very good is easy to identify: The two spectacular car chases and the interplay between the actors—most notably Jean Reno and Robert de Niro. The flaws are more subtle, but no less annoying: The disjointed script that goes nowhere, the reliance over genre clichés and a huge silver MacGuffin. The DVD director’s commentary helps figure out what happened: A good original script (available elsewhere on the web, I believe) being reworked at the director’s whim. (It’s not a good thing to hear “I always wanted to do something about figure skating, so we changed the ending to take place there.”) Action fans and Jean Reno junkies owe it to themselves to see Ronin at least once: despite all its other flaws, it’s a solid thriller.

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