Ronin [Blu-ray]
Blu-ray A - America - Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment
Review written by and copyright: Noor Razzak (18th April 2009).
The Film

There are several films that enter the zeitgeist mainly for a specific scene or sequence. Something that manages to capture audience's attention, imagination or are so impacting that it's virtually impossible to separate the scene from the rest of the film. For example when people talk about "Bullitt" (1968) they talk about the incredible car chase, with "Patton" (1970) there's the opening sequence in front of the American flag, "The French Connection" (1971) for another memorable car chase, "Rocky" (1976) is all about running up the steps, "When Harry Met Sally" (1989) who can forget the orgasm scene? And when people talk about "Pulp Fiction" (1994) they talk about the 'Ezekiel 25:17' sequence (among others of course). These are but some examples, even if people haven't seen these films chances are they know the scene in question. "Ronin" is similar in that sense, while not as great as the previously mentioned films, it's known for the incredible car chases that director John Frankenheimer shot for this action thriller.

The film's title "Ronin" references masterless samurai, roaming the lands as a Ronin making money off their skills. Essentially our Ronin are a collection of ex-spies, mercenaries, hired guns, retrieval experts, etc. These men all have the skills necessary to track down and retrieve a suitcase which is about to be sold to Russians. The team consists of Sam (Robert De Niro), Vincent (Jean Reno), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), Spence (Sean Bean) and Larry (Skipp Sudduth). These men are hired by Dierdre (Natascha McElhone) who works for the IRA. And they embark on a mission to steal the case. The only problem is that it's a well guarded case that seems to hold a high value to its owners. The mission gets complicated and culminates in a thrilling third act that features some of the best car chases in cinema history.

For this film Frankenheimer brings together an incredible ensemble cast led by De Niro, each member manages to bring their own unique element to the characters and manage to stand out among the heavy hitters. I was impressed with the fact there were no show boaters or scene stealers... no scenery is chewed here as Frankenheimer has a tight grip on his performers all coming together to service the action.

"Ronin" is basically a one note plot, there's a case containing something mysterious, everyone wants the case and a bunch of guys will do anything in their power to get it. The result are a series of scenes that build up tension and keep audiences on the edge. The film was rarely predictable, and this is a major aspect of spy thrillers, the best ones are those that surprise the viewer and never let on how it'll unfold and "Ronin" manages this feat for the most part. A character twist involving Stellan Skarsgård is about the only thing I saw coming, but I was so engrossed in the locations, characters and car chases to even care about that.

The case is the ultimate McGuffin, we don't know what's in it, you can spend all day and night coming up with ideas, the point is it doesn't matter what's in the case... only that it's valuable and everyone in this film is after it. The drama, intrigue and action all stem from this set-up. Speaking of action this film is notable as mentioned for the car chases throughout the French locations. What we have are some exhilarating chases on various road conditions that'll leave other sequences in the dust. The scenes are shot, edited and paced out with a precision that missing from some films today. It feels real and intense.

"Ronin" is paper thin in it's plot, but what it lacks there it more than makes up with its characters, intriguing locations, production values and action. It's Frankenheimer and cast at their best.

Video

The film is presented in its original theatrical ratio of 2.35:1 and in high-definition 1080p 24/fps and has been mastered in MPEG-2 compression. For a film that's sold reasonably well on video it's a shame that MGM didn't spend the time to remaster and clean up this transfer for its Blu-ray debut. The transfer looks a bid dated and flat at times, there's visible specks and bits of dirt that pop-up, digital noise is evident and detail is not as good as it could be. The image is fairly sharp but softness is also evident throughout the image. On the plus side colors look accurate, skin tones are natural and texture looks good especially on close-ups. It's a small improvement over the DVD release but most of the time I felt like I was watching an upscaled DVD rather than a true HD image.

Audio

Three audio tracks are included in English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mixed in 48kHz/24-bit as well as French Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and a Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 surround track. For the purposes of the review I chose to view the film with its DTS-HD audio. I was expecting a terrific audio presentation here, considering it's a modern film and presented for the first time on home video with lossless audio, but I was only partly impressed. The track's car chases and action scenes fare real well, they are aggressive and immersive. However I never felt the overall track was totally engaging, it was flat in parts although depth was evident with nice ambient sounds and score filling in the surrounds, finally dialogue was clear and distortion free.
Optional subtitles are included in English, Spanish, Cantonese and Korean.

Extras

MGM has released this film with only a very small amount of extras, this includes the film's original theatrical trailer which runs for 2 minutes 28 seconds. The disc also includes a series of bonus trailers for:

- "The Usual Suspects" which runs for 2 minutes 24 seconds.
- "Walking Tall" which runs for 1 minute 15 seconds.
- "Out of Time" which runs for 2 minutes 8 seconds.

Sadly the extras from the previous 2-disc 'Collector's Edition' DVD have been omitted, I can't see any specific reason for this and is unacceptable.

Overall

The Film: B Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: D- Overall: C

 


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