Tuesday, August 28, 2018

2018 Blind Spot Series: Ronin


Here I am, just under the wire for this month's Blind Spot Challenge. Yes, I'm a bit of a procrastinator. Okay, a big time procrastinator. Hell, waiting until the last minute is my middle name. In the immortal words of Method Man, "I do my best work stressed out and under pressure." And that's where I find myself once again. My apologies to our gracious host Sofia at Returning Videotapes for the barely in time tweet coming, informing her of this post. I'm just depressing myself, so let's just get to it.


Why did I pick it? The first and foremost reason is that it stars the legendary Robert De Niro. Next, his co-star is none other than Jean Reno, Leon: The Professional himself. Finally, I chose this because I tried to watch this before and failed. Badly. I rented it from Blockbuster not long ago it first hit home video. Mrs. Dell wasn't interested so I wound up putting it on late at night after she went to bed. Within the first ten or fifteen minutes, I was knocked out. I didn't get another chance before I had to return it. A few years went by and I found myself working at Blockbuster. They gave employees five free rentals every week which they encouraged us to use on the new releases the week before they hit shelves. However, they didn't force us to do that, so whenever there weren't five movies that interested, I'd use one or two on older movies. Of course this meant I rented Ronin. Sadly, the exact same thing happened. Employees also got first crack at movies that were being moved from rentals to going on sale as "Previously Viewed." The order came in for Ronin to do just that, so I snatched it up with the intent of watching it very shortly. I buried it on a shelf in my collection where it sat for a decade. Literally.

Learning from the mistakes of my past, I put the movie on early in the afternoon. No matter. Before long, my chin was bouncing off my chest as I started nodding off almost immediately. I tried fighting through it for the first thirty minutes or so and losing badly. This was not a good sign, folks. I didn't think I was going to make it through Ronin. The opening was so subdued it was a visual sleeping pill. Then I decided to arm myself. I gave myself something else to do while the movie was playing. I know, that's blasphemous to some of you. You watch movies your way, I'll watch them mine. Anyhoo, it worked. I got through those first thirty minutes without much of an issue. By the time we hit forty-five minutes I was really intrigued by what was going on and spent a lot less time doing the other thing.

The opening that caused me so much trouble involves a team of mercenaries being put together for one job, to retrieve a case by trading for it with some shady types in a dark alley. We meet all the guys during this time, but it's quite clear De Niro's Sam is the guy we're focused on. He strikes a quick friendship with Vincent (Reno). Also on the hastily assembled squad is Seamus (Jonathan Pryce), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), Larry (Skipp Sudduth), and Spence (Sean Bean). They all work for Diedre (Natascha McElhone) who is being awfully secretive about the case. When the trade thing doesn't go well, we're on to plan B - trying to extract the case from an armed convoy. And that's when things get interesting. Double and triple crosses ensue.


Making it through the opening revealed why I had such trouble with it. I've already mentioned that it's a rather subdued affair. It's also pretty cryptic. Diedre is running things and she's not so forthcoming with the information. So, not only do we not know what's going on, neither does anyone on the screen. That possibly includes her. The tactic of not telling us hardly anything is a thread that runs throughout the film. It's ultimately effective, but often keeps the audience at arm's length. The line between telling viewers too much and too little is a thin one. The problem is Ronin rarely even approaches the line, staying far on the side of keeping us in the dark. Luckily, the dialogue is good enough to make us sit up and try sifting through it for any clue we can find. The performances also add to that. De Niro, Reno, and Skarsgard are all brilliant. The chemistry between the former two is excellent without either trying to out-act the other. The latter just nails his role.

As the film goes on it becomes clear that certain characters know more than others. We just don't always know what they know. On some viewers, this might have the effect of dragging them through the movie kicking and screaming, but I found it a source of intrigue. If I'm being completely honest, that intrigue doesn't really kick in until the action gets going. The beginning of those action scenes often starts with wonderfully played cat-and-mouse scenarios before exploding into kinetic energy. However, don't come into Ronin looking for a bunch of Bourne-style fighting and chase sequences. This is a cast full of older men who are not pretending to be young. These are grizzled vets trying to survive a dangerous game. Fittingly, the true action happens when these guys climb into a car. We get some of the best choreographed and executed car chases in cinematic history. That it's all practically done is mind-blowing. When I revisit this film it will first and foremost for them.

By the end, it all wraps a bit too neatly even though we still don't really know anything (unless I missed it), and with a suddenly widened scope to transform all the madness we've witness into a heroic journey. The film never earns this. It just throws it at us out of nowhere. This is where not telling the audience enough comes back to bite Ronin. We're invested in the survival of certain characters, but not really in their quest. Everyone wants the case, but we never really learn why. Therefore, when we're finally told something concrete it feels like any old thing to get us out of the movie, not the organic ending of this story. It dampens my enthusiasm for this film, but it doesn't kill it. I still enjoyed the movie a great deal. However, unless driving was involved, I just never felt it allowed me in far enough to really love it.


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14 comments:

  1. I've never seen this either. I like that Blockbuster encouraged its employees to watch the new releases first. That's nice.

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    1. That was a fantastic perk. It's really the event that got the ball rolling towards me being a blogger.

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  2. Good review, thanks...I enjoyed Ronin and found it unique for an action flick. The film drags the viewer in, and is more about the psyche of mercenaries than any meaningful plot. And the two car chase scenes are absolutely top-notch.

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    1. Yes, it is definitely more about the osyche of those involved rather than the task at hand. Great insight!

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  3. I haven't seen this in a long time. Apparently it didn't leave a huge impression on me because I remember practically nothing about it. Seems like I thought it was "pretty good".

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    1. I'm leaning towards it being a bit better than that. Can't deny I bumped it up a notch because of the car chases.

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  4. Despite the cast this is one of those cases of "Watched it once, thought it was passable, never thought about it again". I can relate to difficulty getting into it, to say it was deliberately paced is being kind.

    I remember those 5 free rentals a week when I worked at Blockbusters too!! Our division never encouraged us to rent the new releases first, we never received them that early. We couldn't rent them for free until after the first two weeks of release. That was okay, I'd seen the ones I was really interested in at the theatre and it helped me catch up on many that I had missed though the years. We also generated a report of the titles that hadn't rented for over six months and would gather them into a spotlight area and theme them out to try and get some activity on them. Then of course when someone famous passed away we'd feature their available films with a tribute picture and those babies would fly off the shelves. I recall Joan Bennett (of course she had all the Dark Shadows shows to add to her kitty) Greta Garbo and Lee Remick's movies in particular did extremely well during their salutes.

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    1. Shame your branch didn't let you rent them until 2 Weeks later. Their logic with us was it would help us talk about the movies with customers right out the gate. And I remember all the various reports. They meant moving and/or pulling cart loads of movies. Good times.

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  5. No apologies necessary, in case you haven't noticed I too am a big procrastinator πŸ™ˆ I've seen Ronin but honestly can't remember much from it, which makes sense if I felt the same as you did. Thanks for participating! I can add your link to my August post if you'd like.

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  6. It's been years since I've seen this film but damn, those car chases in that film are incredible. I do kind of miss Blockbuster as they sometimes had good recommendations despite the fact that they had to get people to rent shitty movies. Yet, I was one of those that was starting to gain a high quality taste which they recommended me to see films that were a cut above everything else.

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    1. The good clerks were the ones that recommended movies based on your tastes, something I tried to do. We put crappy movies wherever corporate told us to, with all the signage and whatnot, but gave our honest opinions on them when asked by customers. As for this movie, yeah, incredible car chases. Some of the best ever.

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  7. I really enjoyed Ronin & have a DVD copy myself. I believe the script got away from itself by trying to be too clever so I am always lost but I love that the men are not pretty boys and I love Jean Reno. The car chase sequences are one of the best but i do wish that the film could stand on its own but i don't think it can

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    1. Yes, it does try to be too clever. I think on some level, the movie wants it that way with all the talk about no questions and no answers, but that's tough on viewers.

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