(By Gerry Wang)
_____This my first movie review, so I know I have room for improvement. I have to admit that as a male movie lover, I have a natural preference towards action movies charged up w/ plenty of testosterone. So the reviews you'll be reading on Rice World will most likely be kick ass films I'm actually willing to shell out dough for. For example, you won't ever see a review here of ONE TRUE THING, unless Rice-- our web god, shells out a little reviewer budget for me to go watch that chick flick. <HINT, HINT> =þ
_____Today I'm reviewing RONIN, an action-thriller directed by John Frankenheimer and starring Robert DeNiro (we all know him), Jean Reno (that dude in GODZILLA and MISSION IMPOSSIBLE), Stellan Skarsgard (that professor dude in GOOD WILL HUNTING), Natasha McElhone (she wasn't that hot), Sean Bean (the bad guy-double agent from GOLDEN EYE), and Jonathan Pryce (that maniac from TOMORROW NEVER DIES).
_____The plot involves a couple of Irish terrorists who hire a group of ex-CIA & ex-KGB mercenaries to retrieve a mysterious suitcase that all evil people on Earth are willing to pay big bucks and kill for. The word "ronin" means samurai warriors who have lost their lord, and cannot, because of honor, bound their allegiance to another lord. So in the end, the samurai either kill themselves or hire themselves out as ambivalent mercenaries. Here, in the movie, the ronin are the ex-agents who are hired, who are no longer needed because the Cold War is over.
_____Normally, in action movies, you expect a certain lame-brain formula, where the buff good guy blows everybody's ass up, all the while cracking smart aleck one-liners. Dumb movies like ARMAGEDDON are just like music videos, w/ one dimensional characters and a totally implausible plot. The typical action movie. But RONIN is completely different from most action movies. It's like they know that formula I just mentioned, and are purposefully trying to contradict the stereotype. RONIN is a unique action movie in these respects:
- the awesome car chases: most action movies throw in a car chase just because they have to. Remember THE ROCK? Nicholas Cage had to chase Sean Connery all over the friggin city, and where did he go? To visit his daughter. Did that advance the plot in any way? They weren't even on the "Rock" yet!!! But here, in RONIN, the car chases count. And they are spectacular. You feel the engines been gassed like crazy, and you can feel the air whipping past you as you rocket at 120 MPH speeds. The chase scenes have a pounding energy that keeps your eyes glued to the screen. And the chases are really chases. They want that suitcase! It's got something every body wants real bad, and they are being paid for their trouble, so hell yeah they're gonna get in a car and snag the bad guys down.
- innocent bystanders get killed: finally, we have an action movie where innocent people are killed. Robert De Niro & co. fire at the bad guys. The bad guys fire back. There are crowds of people around. So the innocent bystanders are victimized. Very realistic, no?
- cops: whenever a shot is fired, you know the cops are coming, and the good guys, Robert De Niro & co. have to run for it, as well as the bad guys. Very realistic, no?
- character development: we get to learn more about the characters' personalities, through calmer moments like a conversation. We actually like these characters as people, regardless if they have to murder people. Like in ARMAGEDDON, I didn't give a crap if Harry or Ben Affleck bit the dust. I didn't care about them. I definitely didn't want Liv Tyler to die though. Anyways........ back to RONIN
- intelligent plot: the plot is full of twists, double crosses, and double double crosses. I can't even begin to explain it. But the movie never talks down to its audience. The writers (J.D. Zeik & Richard Weisz) have written a plot that resembles the labryinthian plot of LA CONFIDENTIAL, but applied it to the action movie genre. Definitely a superior screenplay.
_____But what really makes RONIN a masterpiece is its visual style and flair. Director John Frankenheimer just totally blew me away w/ his camera technique. From what I've read up on him, he's got an impressive resume, and car chase scenes are his specialty. There are 3 chase scenes, are each try to outdo the previous one. The stunts were all done by stunt drivers, who whizzed through the narrow streets of Nice, France and through tunnels like the one Princess Di crashed in. The car chase scene on the wrong side of the road was absolutely harrowing. Frankenheimer's camera technique really helps tell the story of a group of men, who are complete strangers, coming together to perform one mission, interplaying w/ one another and having to work as one unit, or the mission's history.
_____I also really enjoyed the ending. There's a few surprises in there, and when you leave the theater, you'll find yourself thinking like crazy about putting everything together to make sense out of everything, and then be happy using your imagination to fill in the holes the movie left out. Oh yeah, in case I forgot to mention it, inside the suitcase everybody wants is............
***1/2 stars (out of 4 possible)
*See 9/29/'98 video pick of the week for scale info