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 Crime has been the basis of movies since they started and for good reason. We law abiding citizens can get a vicarious kick out of watching a man who dares to flaunt his illegal activities. A crime flick has the proper foundation for a wide variety of different kinds of stories that can range from deeply psychological to intense action. With you try to find a medium between those two extremes you will come up with a movie like ‘Ronin’. The premise is brilliant in its simplicity; a group of semi retired spies and ex Special Forces operative are gathered together to pull off a huge job. This format is a time honored one because it offers a highly effective and extremely efficient way of bringing conflicting personalities into close contact. The nature of the people involved with this mission is that of high strung, deadly professionals. They have survived by their wits and generally trusting no one under any circumstances. This gives the audience a pressure cooker where the characters have to deal with each other and still manage to get the job done. The movie has a fantastic cast, solid writing and a director with a proven track record in the genre. It is over a decade now since the initial theatrical released of the film but it still holds up as one of the more exciting examples of the genre. There are some missteps made along the way in the film; it is not perfect but it works. This is an honest attempt by a very talented cast and crew at delivering a fast paced, action oriented thriller.

Sometimes it is best not to try to over analyze a flick and this is such a case. In order to enjoy a great roller coaster ride you don’t think much about the theme of the ride although most amusement parks now go in that direction. You just get on it; strap yourself in and get ready to have a fun time. This is how you have to approach this movie. It has been around the home theater market since 2001 and is a part of many collections. Fox has been re-issuing some of the fan and critical favorites on high definition for awhile and it is time for this movie to be added to the Blu-ray shelves. Almost everything looks and sounds better in Blu-ray but this one is like a different movie in high definition. It has been a few years since I sat down to watch this movie but seeing it again in this format was an amazing experience. Even if you have the old DVD in your collection this is worth getting again.

It is not uncommon in Hollywood for creative people to come to blows over screen credits. The problems that surround the script for this movie are legendary in the world of cinema. The credits list two authors for the screenplay; J.D. Zeik and Richard Weisz and Zeik as the creator of the story. It is never a good signs when legal teams are called in for a dispute over a screenplay. Weiz is the non de plume of noted playwright and script author David Mamet. He used this alias due to his objection in having to share the credit for the script with Zeik. Ziek and his lawyer maintain that he was responsible for most of the script with Mamet adding only a few minor scenes. Director John Frankenheimer has made comments to the effect that none of Ziek’s script was used in shooting and that he provided the story. Mamet is a master storyteller. Most screenwriters are happy with an Oscar but he has added a Pulitzer Prize for his play ‘Glengary Glen Ross’. The title comes from ancient Japanese culture. A ronin is a samurai whose master has died. He is left disgraced and isolated forced to find work as a mercenary for whoever will hire him. This term aptly describes the characters here. They are former spies and Special Forces operatives who have out lived their usefulness for the governments they once served. Now the only way to use their very unique skill sets is to be soldiers of fortune for hire.

There is no doubt that Frankenheimer was considered one of the most brilliant directors of his generation. ‘Ronin’ was towards the end of his career which included the definitive political thrillers ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ and ‘Seven Days in May’. As a director he was capable of keeping the audience on the edge of their seats with compelling stories backed by intense action. When Frankenheimer took on the sequel of the ‘French Connection’ from William Friedkin many fans noted that his chase scene could not hold a candle to the original film. In this movie Frankenheimer took on the challenge remarkably well. There is a car chase scene here that rivals ‘The French Connection’ in sheer pulse pounding excitement. Whoever actually wrote the story it is at times overly complicated which gives the same affect as being too flimsy. Frankenheimer tries his best to maintain the narrative but he is used to more psychology than action. There is a number of scenes that do show the conflict between these wound too tight men and thanks to the caliber of the actors involved it does come across as a good flick. Frankenheimer is caught between two almost diametrically opposed forces; intrigue and action.

Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) is an Irish woman on a mission. She gathers five well trained mercenaries together for a risky but potentially lucrative assignment. The five are Spence (Sean Bean), Larry (Skipp Sudduth), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), Vincent (Jean Reno) and Sam (Robert De Niro) and each has a specific specialty that will be required to pull of the job. That job is to waylay a heavily armed and guarded convoy and steal a suitcase. Deidre is not really the one pulling the strings for this heist. She answers to Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) a man with a menacing look that he can easily back up with violence. They are also not the only ones after the suitcase which should be obvious considering the amount of fire power assigned to protect it. The Russians are intent on auctioning the contents to the highest bidder. In most respects the suitcase is a classic MacGuffin; vital to the characters but secondary to the audience’s involvement with the movie.

The film is not paced perfectly; it waxes and wanes as it shifts between the spy story and the action. Overall the film has held up well over the years and this new high definition release is incredible. The transition to 1080p video brings out details that I never noticed before. There is a degree of detail present that will blow you away. The colors are well presented with an excellent pallet and remarkable contrast. With an action flick like this the lossless DTS HD audio will give all of your speakers a workout. The sub woofer will spring to life with the crashes and explosions. Even if you have this on DVD give it serious consideration as a re-purchase.

Posted 02/24/09 

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