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MGM-UA/1998/121m/ANA 1.85, PS 1.33

      Too bad the script is not up to the level of professional polish that went into the visceral aspects of Ronin. There are enough holes in the plot to supply a Swiss cheese convention. And this entertainment about professional guns playing at international intrigue is all the more frustrating since the professionals are so unprofessional.
     That said, let’s cut to the chase. The car chases, that it is; they are terrific, gut-wrenching, in you face exercises of dynamic filmmaking. They occur with such furious energy that it is easy to suspend disbelief. So what if the streets would be a mass of immovable bodies when the cars are recklessly maneuvering the curves.
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The bakground's important in this photo©MGM-UA

     Ronin hangs its plot clothing on an empty frame. A group of disaffected former government agents are hired by an Irish revolutionary arm to hijack a metal box that is about to be sold to the highest bidder. What's in the metal box is irrelevant. It's the chase that counts, the plotting and the surveillance, the overall ambiance. Who can you trust. The twists and turns of the plot are more to difficult to navigate than the winding roads of Nice and its environs that highlight one of the grand car chases. It's best not to think about what's going on but enjoy the scenery, the gun play, and the obvious fun the filmmaker's are having. A little more care in making the plot make sense may have turned Ronin into a classic thriller. The hunt for the metal box forms up in Paris, rides to Nice, makes some unexpected stops at other colorful French locales, and winds up with furious plot shenanigans for a Paris finale.
     John Frankenheimer knows his apples and car chases too. The veteran director knows where to put the camera to ignite the excitement too. Frankenheimer takes all the improbabilities, dubious character construction, and repetitions, throws into his deep veteran director's bag, shakes it up furiously and makes Ronin a very entertaining movie despite its obvious weaknesses. The stunts are stages with nothing short breathlessness.
     Robert De Niro is cast against type as a gladiator in the espionage arena and turns it into one of his more satisfying performances in recent years. De Niro puts his stamp on world-weary, shows plenty of pizzazz in handling various weapons and trades blows with the best of them amidst Ronin's excitement. Jean Reno playing a French member of the hijack team develops nice chemistry with De Niro. Natascha McElhone is given some very difficult characterization to make believable. Her relationship to De Niro is a big stretch. But she's beautiful and agile and the aroma of roses to Ronin.
     Ronin's explosiveness is captured with crackerjack precision on this splendid DVD. All that motion must present a challenge to any system, but DVD does justice to the action. A sharp and detailed DVD in every situation, it is especially film-like in video execution. Colors are very natural and approximate the theatrical presentation of this film very well. There is no undue edge enhancement. In the darker scenes shadow detail displays with excellent range. The soundtrack is extremely dynamic handling quiet and explosive passages with equal aplomb. The car chases are a marvelous melange of surround sound detail in this Dolby Digital 5:1 mix. Oh, and all those bullets ricochet from corner to corner of the home theater environment. Ronin includes an intelligent and technically astute running audio commentary from John Frankenheimer. You'll learn lots about the fabulous stunt work and about the decisions on how important plot details were to the Ronin vision. There's also an alternate ending to ponder that I thought made very little difference to the film.