Plot: What’s it about?
In Paris, a small, nondescript bar is home to a very important meeting, as a group of government agents from around the world has been summoned. These men have seen better days, but each one has special skills that are valuable enough to warrant attention. The meeting was called by Dierdre (Natascha McElhone), an Irish woman who has a mission in mind, one she wishes to hire the men to fulfill. She has been contracted to hire the crew and oversee the mission however, the men are in the dark as far as their actual employer. The men also keep their fellow hires in the dark about things, using no full names and very little background information. The mission is to take possession of a case, an item that will not be given over without a fight. The case is held by armed, well trained professionals, so the mission will not be simple or safe. The plan is to set up an ambush, catch the men off guard and make off with the case in the process. With the team members now in place, they begin to prepare, but then a rival group becomes known. One of the men, Sam (Robert De Niro) steps up to lead the group as they race against the rivals, sooner than expected and in a rushed situation. With the plan rushed into motion, will the group be able to succeed? And what’s in the box?
This is a movie is perhaps best known for the car chases involved, including one that has to be considered one of the best ever captured on film. Not lame, quick edit chases with obvious closed circuits or CG rendered crashes either, this is some milestone work. These sequences are dynamic, realistic and provide thrills like few others, this is the place to come for incredible car chases, no doubt it. But while Ronin is indeed most famous for those chases, there is much more to the film than those sequences. Ronin is not deep per se, but it offers more depth than most action movies. So you will be asked to use your brain a little, but don’t expect complex stuff, just enough to push us a little. The film’s visuals are impressive and not just in the action driven scenes, thanks to the dark and harsh design on hand. The order of the day here is realism, this looks like real life and that adds immersion, which so many films lack. Another crucial element here is the cast, as without such a gifted group, Ronin would be just another action movie. Robert De Niro leads the ensemble, with Jean Reno, Sean Bean, Jonathan Pryce, Stellan Skarsgard, and Natascha McElhone all on deck and in fine form.
Video: How does it look?
The film, now nearing its twentieth anniversary, has been given a new 4K restoration supervised by Director of Photography Robert Fraisse (director John Frankenheimer passed away in 2002). While Arrow isn’t known for their intense efforts, the work on this one shows on a literal level. I did notice a deeper level of color saturation, increased detail and a more smooth film-like quality overall. This is on par with what Criterion does with their titles and it’s good to see that other studios are getting in on the action (for lack of a better word). The previous Blu-ray put out by MGM was a standard effort, so comparing the two is a night and day difference. This is, far and away, the best the film has ever looked.
Audio: How does it sound?
The same DTS HD Master Audio option from the original Blu-ray offers some nice sound, with good presence and power. Of course, the main scenes that stand out are chase or action oriented, but that is to be expected. In those sequences, the surrounds pop to life and put us into the action, but I will say the presence isn’t that memorable. The scenes sound good, but not great. The rest of the elements just kind of sit there, with little in terms of life or presence. Even so, a solid soundtrack.
Supplements: What are the extras?
- Close-Up – In this new interview recorded exclusively for this release (March 2017), Ronin cinematographer Robert Fraisse reflects on his long and varied career. Running at 30 minutes, it’s a bit more than what I’d expected and though Fraisse tends to be a bit hard to understand (due to this thick French accent), he’s pretty candid with his comments and clearly has a passion for his work.
- You Talkin’ to Me? – An appreciation of Ronin star Robert De Niro by filmmaker Quentin Tarantino that was originally recorded in 1994. As we know, Tarantino would work with De Niro in Jackie Brown, but it’s nice to see the hyperkinetic Tarantino laud praise on the star.
- Alternate Ending – An all too brief and really not that different ending. Time codes are present and it gives you an appreciation as to how good the final product looks.
- Theatrical Trailer
- Gallery – A slew of posters and some production stills from the film.
- Audio Commentary by John Frankenheimer – This is the same track that appeared on MGM’s first DVD from 1999. Seeing as how the director died in 2002, it’s nice to have this track included on what I consider to be the definitive edition of the movie.
- Archival Features – These are repeated from the previous two-disc special edition DVD and cover a variety of aspects from the film, mainly focusing on the car chase scenes.
- Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane
- Through the Lens
- The Driving of Ronin
- Natasha McElhone: An Actor’s Process
- Composing the Ronin Score
- In the Cutting Room
- Venice Film Festival Interviews
- Collector’s booklet – illustrated by Chris Malbon, featuring new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford. This is essentially what Criterion does with their releases.
- Alternate Cover – Not a huge deal, but Arrow commissioned a new slipcover for the film and the original MGM variant is on the other side. A nice touch for those that liked the original.
The Bottom Line
The days of Robert DeNiro’s action movies are now in the past, but this might have been his last great one. Director John Frankenheimer (best known for his work on the original Manchurian Candidate) had one last shot at glory with this film. It’s got it all, action, drama and of course an amazing car chase scene. Arrow has done this one right with the upgraded and restored picture as well as a slew of supplements.