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  • Writer's pictureMiles Stephenson

Ronin (1998), John Frankenheimer [3/5]

If Heat (1995) and Mission Impossible (1996) had a baby that took itself way too seriously, hired a weirdly melodramatic composer that reuses the same couple leitmotifs, and struggled with issues of thematic consistency, you would have Ronin.

Legendary director of Seconds and The Manchurian Candidate John Frankenheimer is so heavy-handed about the masterless samurai who became ronin being an allegory for De Niro and his team that the whole scene in the middle of the film feels like it has flashing lights above it: “Hey look, this is the message of the movie!” Besides this shoehorned lesson about disgraced warriors, most of the film is about the double-crossing non-state warface of Cold War operatives who can't be trusted — including even our lead De Niro who *spoilers* wasn't paramilitary this whole time but actually still involved in the CIA.

But without the humor or entertaining gadgetry of Mission Impossible or the musings on what it takes to live an itinerant life of crime without love or connection like in Heat, you have a movie who's main lesson is that the old are more experienced than the young and that no one in the den of thieves can be trusted: that is, not much of a lesson.

Despite these story problems, the car chase sequences are some of the most expertly framed and exhilarating set pieces in the genre in the 90s. And of course David Mamet has some great lines:

Spence: You worried about saving your own skin? Sam: Yeah, I am. It covers my body. Sam: You're great in the locker room, pal, and your reflexes might die hard, but you're weak when you put your spikes on. Sam: Everybody wants to go to the party. Nobody wants to stay and clean up.


Take Sam’s character, the old grizzled operative, and his friendship with Jean Reno's Vincent, and put them in a film with something more to say and more consistency in saying it, and you’d have a classic 90s high speed special ops thriller instead of a half-baked story with occasionally compelling spectacle, 3/5.

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