Film Review: Ronin

You've probably seen the posters at tube stations promoting this film but with a vague title like this, you're probably wondering (a) what it's all about and (b) whether it's any good.

I'll answer (b) first: yes, it's good. One of the best action thrillers I've seen in a while, and when I say that, I'm remembering the likes of The Rock, Con Air, Face Off and The Fugitive, and I'm thinking this film is easily superior to those. Perhaps it's the film noir stylings of this one that make it resonate beyond anything those films can manage.

Going into this film, there are two key attractions for me. The first is Robert de Niro but do I really need to say any more about him? The second is Natascha McElhone, the bewitching beauty of The Truman Show (no, not Truman's wife), although I suspect this particular attraction may just be me. :-)

What's it about? Well, I'd rather not give too much away, but I'll cover the basic setup. Ms McElhone plays Deirdre, who has assembled a bunch of mercenaries to steal a box on behalf of some shadowy backers. She doesn't tell the mercenaries what is in the box, but the joy of this film is not that mystery but instead, the acting, the direction and the script.

De Niro is one of those actors who seems to produce more the less he's given. Here his character often his little to say, but everyone pays complete attention when he does say something. I think every film needs a "star" to captivate the audience, and if Carrey does that in The Truman Show, de Niro does it here.

I was rather chuffed to see Ms McElhone demonstrating that she also has that mysterious star quality. Alongside an actor of the stature of de Niro, she more than holds her own. Although given equally little in the way of dialogue, she manages plenty of screen time and I would argue, she also manages a helluvva lot of character development. Where I expected her to be burdened with the role of "token love interest" in the face of all the testosterone laden action that forms the backbone of this film, her exhilerating part in the lengthy car chase scene (amongst many other things) proves otherwise. Her part is integral to the dynamics of the drama and action.

Yes, there is substantial drama here. Unlike the usual Hollywood action films, this one anchors the action in reality. There are no overtly melodramatic shootouts (a la Face Off) or overly fantastic explosions. I recall no muscles rippling through ripped t-shirts: the most flesh you'll see here is part of an uncomfortable amateur surgery scene.

Each character is finely honed, even the brief appearance of Sean Bean (last seen in Patriot Games with Harrison Ford?). More importantly, these are not one-dimensional souls and this film never allows anything to become that obvious. The unpredictability of this film is completely believable, and somehow, you genuinely worry about what's going to happen to each character (go on, try that with Con Air).

I supposed you could say there are two types of action films: pure action and thrillers. Refreshingly, this one is an action-packed version of the latter. If you like a little more brain than brawn in your films, this is probably worth a couple of hours of your time.

© David Gilliver 1998

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