With a screech and a roar and a “Hey you guys!,” it’s Burl here to review some underappreciated 90s stealth Christmas action! It’s a picture I saw and enjoyed on the big screen, and its several scenes of realistic car-crunching chaseology makes good solid sense when you take into account that the picture is a late work from John Frankenheimer, crusty gent and director of Prophecy and The Train! Ha ha, yes, naturally the picture I’m talking about is Ronin!
The movie is all about how things are done, and much less about why they are done! It’s a crime procedural, I guess, and involves a group of folk living on the grey side of the law who gather in France to wrangle a silver case, contents unknown and irrelevant, away from the shady parties who possess it, and get it into the hands of the Irish! Representing the people of the shamrock is Dierdre, played by beauteous Natasha McElhone from The Truman Show, and her crew includes Sam, an American played by Robert De Niro from Mean Streets and Mad Dog and Glory, whom the other characters take to be ex-CIA (but is he ex???); Jean Reno from Godzilla playing Vincent, the man who can get what’s needed; Gregor, a German who used to work for the Russians, played by the Swede Stellan Skarsgard, whom we know from The Hunt for Red October and The Avengers; and the clearly out-of-his-depth Spence, essayed by Sean Bean from How to Get Ahead in Advertising, who’s always good at characters like that, though he can play other types as well!
Ha ha, and we know Bean from GoldenEye of course; and the picture also includes prominent roles for Michael Lonsdale from The Day of the Jackal and Moonraker and Jonathan Pryce from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen and Tomorrow Never Dies! So there we have a total of three James Bond antagonists in the same movie! Here, one of them plays a bad guy, one a good guy, and one is neither! And there’s also a little smiley cameo appearance from Amidou, whom we might recall from Sorcerer!
The caper involves, or at least results in, several crackerjack car chases, which are without question the highlights of the movie! But with that terrific cast and dialogue from a pseudonymous David Mamet (“You ever kill anybody?” “I hurt somebody’s feelings once”), and a general air of what we might call “invented realism,” the picture is a totally enjoyable bit of non-comic book action! And as I say, like Cobra and Die Hard and Lethal Weapon and Die Hard 2 and To Live and Die in L.A. and Invasion U.S.A., this is an example of 80s Xmas Action – that is, it’s set over the Christmas season and features a few holiday accoutrements, in this case some carolling, a background appearance by Pere Nöel, and a few words of Christmas-related conversation here and there!
It’s hardly a perfect movie, though! It somehow doesn’t fully grip in the way it should, which is probably because it’s so procedural that it doesn’t bother with any of the other niceties of drama, like characters and plot and emotional stakes! It seems at times like an exercise put together by old pros as a display item, for which they concentrated on surface effects rather than substance; but on that surface level it excels! It’s a good, grown-up crime film, sort of a spiritual stepson of Melville’s great policiers, though not their equal, and I’m a fan even as I recognize its unidimensional characters and cereal-box plot! Ha ha, I’m giving Ronin three spilled cups of coffee!