In Japanese mythology, the ronin were samurai warriors whose
master had been slain. Without someone to protect, they were forced to wander
the land looking for illegal work.
The samurai warriors in John Frankenheimer's taut espionage thriller Ronin are all former intelligence officers who are either retired, disgraced or whose agencies have been dissolved.
Ronin is the kind of purposefully murky thriller in which the characters have no last names, veiled histories and devious motives.
The less intent you are in solving the mysteries in Ronin, the less disappointed you'll be by the evasive script.
Don't worry about what's in that suitcase everyone is so determined to steal and don't expect to find out why there is a new double cross at every plot intersection.
Part of the fun is just how mind boggling Ronin becomes as it piles intrigue upon intrigue making it reminiscent of The Usual Suspects and Pulp Fiction for the pure audacity of its screenplay.
David Mamet contributed to the screenplay as is obvious by the staccato, edgy dialogue.
Given the pedigree of Ronin, it's best just to sit back and enjoy the ride.
And what a wild ride it is.
The white knuckle car chases in Ronin rank among the best captured on film.
Frankenheimer takes what he learned about car chases in Grand Prix and revs up the thrill quotient.
Thrilling as its chases and shootouts are, Ronin works because the acting is so stellar.
Robert DeNiro plays Sam, a former CIA operative.
Someone who knows some one who knew him when, recommends Sam to Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), an Irish revolutionary who is planning the heist.
She may be working for the IRA; or she may be working against them; or she and her bosses may have dastardly plans of their own. Deirdre is clearly a puppet employee who holds her position because she is a tactical expert and as cold-blooded as she is cold hearted. Jean Reno is Vincent, a former French intelligence officer.
It's not too long before Vincent and Sam realize there is a traitor in their midst.
Someone is getting paid even more to make sure Deirdre's people don't get the suitcase and its contents.
All the performances in Ronin are outstanding for their economy.
Like the mysterious suitcase, DeNiro always seems on the verge of exploding.
You just know there's some thing dangerous and lethal beneath the unremarkable exterior.
Reno also exercises tight control on his character's emotions though he does show Vincent's sly sense of humour suggesting at some level the man is a bit of a rogue.
Frankenheimer is a masterful director working at the zenith of his craft.
He knows how to build tension and suspense then to ease them just a little before compounding the thrills.
Ronin is riveting entertainment.
Frankenheimer has created a masterpiece of suspense and intrigue.