Ronin Will Thrill You like No Car Film Can
The ronin of the Japanese legend were samurai without a master. Leaderless, they would roam the countryside, shamed, and look for work as hired swords or bandits.
In the 1998 crime-thriller directed by John Frankenheimer, the modernized Ronin are mercenaries for hire, former “Cold Warriors” whose jobs have been phased out due to the thaw in international relations.
They’re simply surplus now, but there are always jobs available for people with unique skill-sets. Robert De Niro plays Sam, the lone American, who heads up an international crew for hire after being hired by IRA member Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) to recover a mysterious briefcase. There’s also Vincent (Jean Reno), a Frenchman who knows how to procure things, and the one member that De Niro’s character respects, and vice-versa. Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), a computer expert (who might be ex-KGB). Spence (Sean Bean), a munitions and bomb maker. And finally, Larry (Skipp Sudduth), the driver. Every crew worth its salt needs an expert driver, right?
Relax, sit back, and just enjoy the film for what it is: a virtual feast of cars and chases. For maximum authenticity, Frankenheimer decided to shoot the chases himself in real-time with none of the CGI or post-production trickery that is prevalent today, even riding on board during some scenes. Petrolicious salutes him for his bravery.
12:30—Deirdre: “Larry, Can you Tell Vincent what it is you need”? Larry: “Something very fast. Audi S8. Something that can shove a little bit. I’m also gonna need a nitrous system.”
Sounds like Larry was “fast and furious” when The Fast & the Furious was but a speck in the screenwriter’s imagination. Nitrous Oxide (NOS) is the perfect addition to the S8’s 4.2 liter V-8, boosting its now pitiful 335 horsepower to something a whole lot greater, and transforming the Audi into the perfect vehicle to chase down a valuable briefcase.
23:30—After loading up with some supplies for the job, the crew is ambushed by folks with bad intentions in a 7 Series. De Niro and his crew take them down, but in the distance, we hear sirens. The Gendarmes must be on their way, but their pitiful Peugeots are no match for the raw power of a NOS-boosted S8. Larry powerslides the S8 around Paris with ease, but Sean Bean gets a bit car-sick…
42:53—This is why we’re watching. A convoy of black French cars—Peugeot 605’s and one Citroen XM in the middle—mean these are the bad guys who have the mysterious case our heroes want to abscond with.
43:00—De Niro and Jean Reno wait for word in the Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a very rare Mercedes-Benz W116 variant.
45:30—De Niro fires out the sunroof of the Benz. We’re pretty sure that’s not what a sunroof is for, but the shot is effective. The chase is on!
46:50—If the 6.9 vs the Peugeots was the undercard, this is the title fight. The boosted, and mighty “D2″ S8 vs the Citroen XM, with the Mercedes in pursuit, right through the center of town. They are breaking so many traffic laws.
50:00—How many henchmen can fit in a Peugeot 605? The answer: quite a few.
108:50—De Niro and Reno commandeer a VW Golf. Keep calm and drive on.
1:25:00—I guess there could be worse way to die. A condemned man gets what seems to be his last ride in an E34 BMW M5.
1:27:00—After some more plot turns and twists, De Niro’s Sam and Reno’s Vincent end up tracking down Deirdre, Gregor, and Seamus (Jonathan Price) , and chasing them through the streets and highways of the French capital. While McElhone has the mighty M5, De Niro gets the worst end of the stick—pardon the pun—in a Peugeot 406. De Niro’s character must be an amazing driver, because the Peugeot 406, even in top spec, doesn’t seem competitive with the M5. Still, nice heel and toe work from De Niro, as the camera cuts to his feet working the pedals every now and then.
1:33:40—The epic chase comes to an end after the M5 gets its tire shot out. That is not going to buff out. The eight-minute chase through the middle of Paris has come to an ignoble end.
1:38—No more car chases, but is that a lovely Ferrari 250 Cabriolet Series II by Pinin Farina that we see being tuned up at a garage?
When this film was first released, Frankenheimer had already cemented his place in car movie heaven on the account of his earlier work on Grand Prix (1966) and The French Connection (1975). And he didn’t disappoint here either. While Ronin was only a moderate financial success when it came out, (and its plot can be a little bit confusing at times), the break-neck pace, and quality of film’s car chases are most of the reasons people remember it today as such a great 90s thriller.
Oh, and what was in that briefcase?