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John Frankenheimer
Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, Michael Lonsdale
Writing Credits:
J.D. Zeik (story & screenplay), David Mamet (as Richard Weisz)

Loyalty is bought, betrayal is a way of life ...

In a world where loyalties are easily abandoned and allegiances can be bought, a new and deadlier terrorist threat has emerged, free agent killers! The Cold War may be over, but a new world order keeps a group of covert mercenaries employed by the highest bidder. These operatives, known as Ronin, are assembled in France by a mysterious client for a seemingly routine mission: steal a top-secret briefcase. But the simple task soon proves explosive as other underworld organizations vie for the same prize...and to get the job done, the members of Ronin must do something they've never done before - trust each other!

Box Office:
$55 million.
Opening Weekend
$12.697 million on 2487 screens.
Domestic Gross
$41.609 million.

Rated R

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Spanish Dolby Surround 2.0
French Dolby Digital 5.1
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 121 min.
Price: $19.99
Release Date: 2/24/2009

• Previews and Trailer


Panasonic TC-P60VT60 60-Inch 1080p 600Hz 3D Smart Plasma HDTV; Sony STR-DG1200 7.1 Channel Receiver; Panasonic DMP-BD60K Blu-Ray Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


Ronin [Blu-Ray] (1998)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (January 20, 2015)

If I recall correctly, 1998’s Ronin disappointed me when I saw it theatrically. I thought it looked cool based on the previews, but the final result left me cold – I guess. Frankly, I barely remembered the movie over the years, so I’m not completely sure what reaction it inspired in me.

Obviously it didn’t make enough of an impression for me to avoid it down the road, so here we go again. The film starts with a text preface that explains how samurai whose liege lords died on their watch suffered shame and were forced to become rogue warriors. They no longer merited the title of “samurai”. Instead, these mercenaries became known as “ronin”.

So there’s your title! The movie hops to present-day Paris to introduce us to a group of “guns for hire” brought together on a mission under Deirdre (Natasha McElhone). The gang includes Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), Spence (Sean Bean) and Larry (Skipp Sudduth). Deirdre instructs them that they need to ambush a group of five to eight men to retrieve a briefcase.

And that’s all she tells them to start, as she keeps the contents of the case a secret. The rest of the movie’s action revolves around this mysterious package. Various folks double-cross each other as the different parties try to take control of the case. Sam remains in the forefront as he tries to come out on top.

Now that I’ve seen Ronin three times, I know why I didn’t remember it in 1998: the movie rarely rises above the level of “mediocre”. I don’t mean that to convey that the film is bad or truly problematic. Instead, I simply think it fails to stick to the viewer’s brain. It does just enough right to keep us interested over its two hours, but it doesn’t manage to stimulate us more than that.

With less talent at hand, that could be acceptable. However, given the number of “names” at work on Ronin, it becomes a shame that the film lacks much pizzazz.

Director John Frankenheimer creates a real throwback flick. He makes virtually no concessions to modern cinema, as Ronin feels like something he could have created 30 years earlier. Indeed, it reminds me of gritty classics like The French Connection with its rough, unflinching world.

In no way does this old-fashioned form of movie-making bother me, so I don’t want these remarks to convey that I think Ronin drags due to stylistic choices. Indeed, I think it’s nice that we get a film without any of the modern excesses that mar so many efforts. Ronin goes with a non-nonsense, all-business tone.

While I feel like that should make matters satisfying, Ronin never catches fire. Frankly, there’s a real lack of inspiration behind the cameras. Old-fashioned filmmaking is good, but cliché, tired filmmaking isn’t acceptable. I get the impression that Frankenheimer goes with the tried and true largely because he can’t think of any other way to work.

The case at the center of the movie acts as a classic MacGuffin. That factor means that the story of Ronin becomes more than slightly frustrating. From the very start, the film makes it transparently clear that the case really doesn’t matter other than as at motivator for our principals. It’s unimportant what happens to it or what it contains, and that seems obvious from the beginning. I wish the flick hid this fact better, as that would allow the story to become more interesting.

This doesn’t mean that Ronin doesn’t come without thrills and surprises. We don’t ever quite know who to trust, and events change our allegiances rapidly. Of course, we always stick with De Niro’s Sam, and Reno’s Vincent gives us little reason for concern. The others create more complicated characters that we find it more difficult to trust.

All of that creates a little tension as Ronin runs. Unfortunately, it’s just not enough to sustain the movie. We get a few decent action sequences and a mildly involving thriller but not much depth or spark. This is a wholly ordinary flick.

The Blu-ray Grades: Picture C+/ Audio B/ Bonus D-

Ronin appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this Blu-ray Disc. Though it could’ve looked worse, this remained a lackluster presentation.

Sharpness was inconsistent, and wide shots tended to look a bit soft. Much of the movie seemed reasonably concise, but too many exceptions occurred and I didn’t detect great detail much of the time. I saw no examples of jagged edges or shimmering, but light edge haloes appeared, and the movie showed some digital noise. I also noticed periodic instances of source defects such as small specks; these weren’t heavy but they created some distractions.

The low-key palette of Ronin never went much beyond those restrictions. A few slightly bright hues showed up along the way, but the majority of the movie stayed with gray tones. The colors we saw looked decent but somewhat bland. Blacks were acceptably deep, but shadows tended to appear a little dense. The low-light shots could have offered better clarity. This all wound up with a “C+” image.

While not great, the DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack of Ronin seemed fine. Speech could be a little reedy, but the lines were intelligible and without edginess or other flaws. Music showed reasonable range, and effects came across with fair clarity and impact. The latter could’ve been a bit more clean and dynamic, but those elements showed acceptable definition.

The soundfield seemed positive. The music demonstrated good stereo imaging, and the movie took advantage of all its action sequences. All five speakers presented a lot of information, especially during the livelier scenes. Bullets zipped around the room and cars zoomed all over the place.

At times I thought things could be a little too “speaker specific”, but the track usually blended well. In the end, this felt like a “B” soundtrack.

How did the Blu-Ray compare with the 2006 Special Edition DVD? Audio was a bit tighter and clearer, and effects offered superior definition and fewer print flaws. The Blu-ray didn’t give us a great presentation, but it worked better than the prior release.

The 2006 DVD came with plenty of extras, virtually none of which appear on the Blu-ray. Instead, we only get trailers for Ronin, The Usual Suspects, Walking Tall (2004) and Out of Time.

Three times I’ve watched Ronin and three times I’ve wanted/expected to like it. Three times I’ve felt only moderately involved by it. The film includes many solid parts but they never coalesce to form a rich whole. The Blu-ray presents mediocre visuals, fairly good audio and no substantial bonus materials. This becomes a lackluster release for an average film.

To rate this film, visit the 2006 DVD review of RONIN

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