Review: Films Inspired By Japan – Ronin (1998)

When I first sat down to watch this I felt slightly reassured by its well-known cast of Robert De Niro and the safe pair of hands that is Jean Reno. The former may be a legendary actor but that hasn’t stopped him from making some truly awful films. Thankfully, this wasn’t one as it is actually very good.

Warning: Contains spoilers!

This gritty tale of trust is set and filmed in France (Paris and Nice) and it is these settings, along with the musical score, which really drives this movie for me. It’s a slow but tense opening as the viewer tries to figure out what exactly is happening – someone has something some other people require and they want to get it. Yes, it really is that vague!

ronin  ronin_us1sh

Just after the half way point in this 121 minute film, there is a conversation between Sam (Robert De Niro) and Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale) about the Ronin myth giving an explanation about the 47 Ronin summing it up far better than the awful Keanu Reeves film of 2014 did! In ancient Japan, Samurai warriors who were left with no cause, or purpose, if their master was killed would wander the land looking for work as hired swords or bandits renting out their skills to the highest bidder. These masterless warriors were no longer referred to as Samurai, but instead were called Ronin.

Well what do you know but the cast of characters here are a group of lost, wandering freelancers. Five mysterious men of various backgrounds (ex-CIA, KGB etc) meet up in a bar in Paris for a job headed by a Northern Irish woman. The job is to steal a case from a group and return it to employers they don’t even know yet.

Ronin‘ is a highly entertaining movie with a post-Cold War feel about it due to the characters involved. The enigmatic Sam is as close to a hero as this movie gets. He has a set of well-honed skills but that’s not to say he’s without flaws. Quite a few times he’s bailed out by his comrade Vincent (Reno) which of course helps develop their friendship. Stellan Skarsgard, Natascha McElhone and Jonathan Pryce are all convicting enough in their roles with the latter in particular coming across as far more menacing and sadistic than previous roles.

Sean Bean’s character doesn’t last too long but it’s not because he bites the bullet. Instead, his eccentric character Spence is axed from the job as he doesn’t measure up compared to the rest of the team. He is given a severence pay and I, for one, was expecting to see him later reappear to throw a spanner in the works of the rest. That never happens which was something of a surprise in this crime story comprising a fair few twists and double-crossers.

Where this film really shines is it’s well designed car chase scenes and the way they are shot is different to your typical Hollywood movie with all the in-your-face angles. Smooth steady-cam shots are employed and the whole process enables the viewer to experience a truer sense of the speed and realism. People are very familiar with the Paris car chase in ‘The Bourne Identity‘ (2002) and as great as that was, it has to be remembered that this film did it a few years before.

The plot of the film is kept as secretive as the contents of the silver case which can cause a degree of unrest and dissatisfaction among some viewers but I don’t believe that all loose ends always have to be tied up by the time the final credits roll. It was then that I realised that we never did discover the true contents on the in-demand case but it has to be said that I actually didn’t care too much!

TF Rating 8/10 

About tokyofox

A Leicester City fan teaching English in Japan
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