I’m a sucker for car chases. Not the
perfunctory, last-minute “Hey, this movie needs a car chase!” variety, but the
kind that comes as a result of a particular plot point wherein someone or some group has to get away from some other
group. While most new car chases such as TheFast and the Furious sort are usually
accomplished through CGI, I find that this sleight-of-hand fakery virtually
abolishes all tension. The best ones that I have seen all did it for real
through innovative and unprecedented filming techniques and excellent editing: Grand Prix (1966), Vanishing Point (1967), Bullitt
(1968), The Seven-Ups (1973), The Blues Brothers (1980), The Road Warrior (1981), The Terminator (1984), F/X (1986), Terminator 2: Judgement Day (1991), and The Town (2010) all have action sequences that put the full wonder
of film editing on display.
There are two major car chases in the
late John Frankenheimer’s Ronin, which opened on Friday, September 25, 1998, and
it’s the second and longer one that ranks up there in the pantheon of The Greatest
Car Chases Ever Filmed. The French
Connection (1971) and To Live and Die
in L.A. (1985) are the granddaddies of car chases in my humble opinion and Ronin’s is certainly in the top ten,
with a stupendous wrong-way-driving-against-incoming-traffic sequence through a
tunnel in France to composer Elia
Cmiral’s exciting score.
The title of “Ronin” is originally a
reference to the feudal period of Japan relating to a samurai who has become
masterless following his master’s death as a result of the samurai’s failure to
protect him. To earn a living, the samurai wanders from place to place
attempting to gain work from others. For the uninitiated, title cards prior to
the film’s opening credits inform us of this. This name relates to the film as
several mercenaries meet for the purpose of stealing an important silver case.
Sam (Robert DeNiro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), and Spence
(Sean Bean) and several others are the persons for hire. Deirdre (Natascha
McElhorne) is the one who called them all together but she offers little in the
way of an explanation as to what the contents are. Like in Quentin Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs (1992), they don’t know
one another and work under the assumption that all involved are trustworthy
which eventually will be their undoing. Now ya see, if they has listened to the
James Poe episode “Blood Bath” on the old time radio show Escape!, none of this would have ever happened! Yeah…
Sam used to work for the CIA, Vincent
is a “fixer”, Spence is a former Special Air Service expert in weaponry, Gregor
is an expert in electronics, and Larry (Skipp
Sudduth) is one of the drivers. Sam is the most inquisitive and probably has
the most to lose. They don’t discuss their past and are eager to get paid. Sam almost
acts like the ringleader, but he has some serious competition after they secure
their objective and are double-crossed. It then becomes a game of who can trust
who (naturally, the answer is no one). There are some really good supporting
performances by Michael Lonsdale (I hadn’t seen him in a theater since Moonraker!) and Jonathan Pryce and the
action always keeps moving forward but unlike today’s films, the action
sequences are well-staged and edited and have depth to them. A terrific
addition to Mr. Frankenheimer’s filmography.
The Blu-ray, which is Region A & B, comes with a wealth of extras, most of which are ported over from the double DVD set:
First up is a new 4K transfer of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video. It was supervised and approved by the film’s director of photography Robert Fraisse. The film is almost twenty years-old and looks great in high definition.
There is a feature-length audio commentary by the late director John Frankenheimer who is absolutely fascinating to listen to. He explains that he lived in Paris for many years and points out real locations and sets; speaks at length about the relationships of the characters to one another; discusses how the film’s cuts were made; mentions how it was shot in Super35 with spherical lenses as opposed to scope Panavision; and gives the viewer a great sense of what went into making the film and why they made the decisions that they made.
Close Up is a new video interview from March 2017 with Ronin’s director of photography Robert Fraisse who explains how he found work and was ultimately called upon to shoot so-called erotic films following his work on The Story of O (1975) for Just Jaekin and later Jean Renoir’s last film. Ronin is one of the better films he has shot.
You Talkin’ to Me? is a twenty-seven minute documentary by Paul Joyce on Robert De Niro that features director Quentin Tarantino talking about Mr. De Niro’s status in the industry back in the 1970’s and what it became after he got involved with Tribeca. It’s an interesting perspective, one that this scribe shares. The date on this film is 2008, however it was clearly shot around 1993 because Mr. Tarantino mentions The Piano, and that Mr. De Niro and Al Pacino hadn’t been in a movie together, so this was two years before the sensational Heat (1995).
Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane, running nearly eighteen minutes, is an archival behind-the-scenes featurette that takes us behind-the-scenes of the making of the film.
Through the Lens is an archival interview with Robert Fraisse that runs about eighteen minutes and covers a lot of the famous car chase.
The Driving of Ronin is an archival featurette on the film’s many car stunts that runs over fifteen minutes. It’s wild to see how the stunt drivers did the driving in a makeshift car with the actors performing fake driving!
Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process is a fourteen-minute archival interview with the actress who is best known to audiences today for being the ex-girlfriend of Hank Moody on Showtime’s Californication.
Composing the Ronin Score is an archival interview with composer Elia Cmiral runs twelve minutes. This is a great score that is available on CD. I personally love the car chase music.
In the Ronin Cutting Room is an archival interview with editor Tony Gibbs that runs about nineteen minutes. He discusses the car chase at length.
There are also Venice Film Festival interviews with Robert De Niro (about twenty-one minutes), Jean Reno (twenty-seven minutes) and Natascha McElhone (thirty-two minutes).
There is also an alternate ending and a theatrical trailer.
There is a reversible sleeve featuring original and newly commissioned artwork by Jacob Phillips.
NOTE: FIRST PRESSING ONLY – Comes with a collector’s booklet illustrated by Chris Malbon, featuring a new essay on the film by critic Travis Crawford called Full Throttle – Fin de siècle.