• Ronin

    Released by: Arrow Video
    Released on: August 29th, 2017.
    Director: John Frankenheimer
    Cast: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Sean Bean, Stellan Skarsgard
    Year: 1989
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    The Movie:

    In Paris, a beautiful Irish woman named Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), for her own reasons, hires a team of specialists - Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), Spence (Sean Bean) and Larry (Skipp Sudduth) – to carry out a mission on her behalf. The plan? To steal a briefcase from a heavily armed convoy. They’re not to ask questions about its contents, because they’re not going to get any answers. This is the business that they are in, and that is understood.

    After she details them on the job, they set out to do what they’ve been paid to do, but of course, it’s far more complicated than any of the team realize. Deirdre’s assistant Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) tells her that the Russian mob is after the same brief case. As the story plays out, betrayals are made, alliances are formed and each member of the team, a specialist in his own field, will be pushed and tested and not all of them will survive…

    Ronin stands as the last seriously great movie directed by the late John Frankenheimer and it proves to be an admirable late-career return to form for the man who gave us classics like The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds and The French Connection II. Written by David Mamet (credited as Richard Weisz), the man who penned The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross and Hannibal to name just a few, the movie is well paced save for a few slower scenes in the middle stretch that could have been trimmed a bit. Otherwise? Ronin works really well. The movie is tense, it’s exciting and it is really well shot. The action set pieces and stunt work never fail to impress. Not only do we get some intense shoot outs but there are some really strong car chase scenes in the film that rank up there with some of the best ever seen in a mainstream Hollywood picture.

    Robert Fraisse’s cinematography is also impressive. Shot almost entirely on location throughout Europe the film makes great use of the older style of architecture that we see on display in the various locales that Frankhenheimer employs. Fraisse’s camera captures this nicely, able to concentrate on the drama and the action needed to propel things while still keeping the picture impressive on a visual level. Elia Cmiral contributes a score that works very well in the context of the story. The music in the film accentuates the elements that grab us without distracting from them, highlighting the tension and the more dramatic moments in equally impressive amounts.

    Of course, a big part of the draw for the film is the cast. It’s fair to say at this point that Robert De Niro has become self-parodic to a large degree, having accepted roles far beneath those he took in his heyday. In Ronin he’s excellent. Well cast as the tough as nails former C.I.A. agent that holds it all together, he uses that inimitable screen presence that he made such a name for himself with to cut quite an imposing figure. Every bit De Niro’s equal in the film is Jean Reno, who plays the quiet, cool French assassin with plenty of cool charisma. The rest of the cast do fine work as well, but De Niro and Reno really shine here.


    Arrow presents Ronin on a 50GB Blu-ray disc in an AVC encoded transfer framed at 2.35.1 widescreen from a ‘brand new 4K restoration of the film from the original camera negative produced by Arrow Video exclusively for this release, supervised and approved by director of photography Robert Fraisse.’ No complaints here – the picture is really solid. Black levels are nice and strong, color reproduction seems quite accurate (the film makes use of an intentionally muted palette) and skin tones look lifelike. There are no noticeable issues with any compression artifacts nor is there any evidence of noise reduction or edge enhancement. The transfer is free from almost all print damage related issues but still manages to look natural, like film should, with a bit of grain inherent in the picture. All in all, the image here is very strong. The previous barebones Blu-ray put out by MGM a few years back is now essentially a coaster – this is a fairly massive upgrade in quality.

    The main audio option for the feature is an English 5.1 audio presented in DTS-HD 5.1 Master Audio format with optional English subtitles included. Again, Arrow score top marks. The dialogue stays clean, clear and concise while there’s a nice low end here to anchor the shoot outs and action scenes with the right amount of power. The score sounds good and there’s some decent surround activity here to keep the mix engaging and fun. An optional English language LPCM 2.0 Stereo track is also provided.

    Extras for this special edition release start off with an audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer that originally appeared on the old MGM DVD release. For those who haven’t heard the track, it’s a detailed examination of the director’s work on the picture loaded with stories about the locations used for the shoot, working alongside the different cast and crew members on the shoot and quite a bit more. Frankenheimer’s a good storyteller and given the amount of experience that the man was able to bring to the picture and how storied a career he had, this is maybe not surprisingly a really good listen.

    From there we get a mix of old and new featurettes. The new material begins with a video interview featuring director of photography Robert Fraisse entitled Close Up. In this thirty-one minute piece Fraisse talks not only about the specifics of his work on Ronin and his thoughts on working with the film’s famous director, but also about how he got into the business and some of the other picture’s he has been involved with over the years. Up next is a twenty-seven minute featurette called You Talkin’ To Me? that is a career profile of Robert De Niro taken from a TV series called Cinfile from 1997. This gives us a quick overview of the famous actor’s work up to this point and includes commentary from Quentin Tarantino.

    From there, the archival material (taken from the previous special edition DVD) kicks off with Ronin: Filming In The Fast Lane which is an eighteen minute behind the scenes featurette that shows off some of the stunt work and action scenes being shot alongside some sound bites from the cast and crew. Up next, another interview with Fraisse entitled Through The Lens that runs eighteen minutes and features some more behind the scenes footage shot on the set of Ronin. The Driving Of Ronin is a great sixteen minute piece that examines what went into nailing a few of the more complex chase scenes that stand out as highlights of the film, while Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process is a fourteen minute long interview with the actress that also includes clips from the film and her thoughts on the picture. Composing The Ronin Score spends twelve minutes with composer Elia Cmiral wherein he talks about what went into creating the music for the film while In The Ronin Cutting Room lets editor Tony Gibbs discuss his contributions to the picture and his experiences working on it for nineteen minutes. Also found in this section are twenty minutes of Venice Film Festival Interviews featuring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone, each of whom speaks quite fondly about their thoughts on the quality of the film and their experiences making the picture.

    Rounding out the extras for this release are an inferior alternate ending (tape sourced and in rough shape but interesting to see), the film’s original theatrical trailer, menus and chapter selection. This release also comes with some reversible sleeve artwork featuring original poster art on one side and and newly commissioned artwork on the other side as well as an insert booklet illustrated by Chris Malbon featuring new writing on the film by critic Travis Crawford and, last but not least, a slipcover.

    The Final Word:

    Ronin is a bit longer than it needs to be but otherwise, it’s a very fine film. The performances are strong across the board and there’s a lot of tension here as well as some impressive action set pieces. Arrow’s Blu-ray presents the film in fantastic shape on a Blu-ray loaded with extras. Easy to recommend this one, even if you already own past editions on DVD or Blu-ray.

    Click on the images below for full sized Blu-ray screen caps!