Blu-ray Review: Ronin

Strange to think, but kids entering college never went to the movie theater to see Robert De Niro as a badass. They’ve seen him as a protective father, a troubled mob boss, an elderly boxer and a dirty grandpa in comedies. De Niro has been barely avoiding the tag of 21st Century Leslie Nielsen. There’s got to be a few kids in the dorm who would be shocked to know De Niro was once a serious yet charming actor. His last great non-goofy role was as Sam in Ronin where he shared the screen with quite a few international tough guys paid to do a job in Europe.

Ronin were Samurais that lost their masters and would roam Japan picking up odd gigs for pay. Sam is an ex-US intelligence agent in Europe who gets hired by a mysterious backer for a no questions asked gig. He doesn’t know his co-workers except what their roles might be in the plot. He is part of an international team that includes Jean Reno (The Professional), Natascha McElhone (Californication), Stellan Skarsgård (The Avengers) and Sean Bean (Game of Thrones). Their mission is to retrieve a suitcase. What’s inside the suitcase? They don’t need to know since that’s not part of the paycheck. The plan is a serious heist with fire power and fast cars that goes all around France. This is not a simple grab and run and there’s a chance that one of the mercenaries isn’t happy with his already generous fee.

Ronin is a great movie because of the cast and the locations. The interaction between De Niro and Reno is gold on the screen. Why these two didn’t do more work together is a shame. De Niro is details oriented and Reno is French. The chases go into overdrive with plenty of skids and wrecks on the cobblestone streets. This was director John Frankenheimer’s last great movie as he pulls in a few themes from his previous works including The Manchurian Candidate, Seconds, Grand Prix and even a touch of French Connection II for the scenery. De Niro is magnificent as he plays a character and not a caricature of his previous roles. His rule about not entering a building without knowing how to get out is one worth accepting in your life. The Blu-ray of Ronin brings together all the previous DVD bonus features with a few prime new elements that make it so worth putting in the collection on your dorm dresser.

The video is 2.35:1 anamorphic. The transfer looks great for the nighttime and daylight car chases in France. The high definition brings out the expressions exchanged between De Niro an Reno. The audio is DTS-HD MA 5.1 mix that lets the chases swirl around the room. There’s also a LCPM 2.0 mix. The movie is subtitled.

Audio commentary by director John Frankenheimer is from an old release since the director passed away in 2002.

Close Up (31:27) is a brand new video interview with director of photography Robert Fraisse. He explains how he spent five years loading cameras as he progressed up the film crew to become a director of photography. He shot The Story of O. Maybe I’m a camera nut, but his tale of how to check a hair in the gate for Jean Renoir is fascinating.

You Talking to Me (27:01) is a special hosted by Quentin Tarantino in 1994. What’s interesting is that they made Jackie Brown together in 1997. Tarantino was originally wooing Sylvester Stallone for the role so this didn’t seem to be bait for his follow up to Pulp Fiction. It covers his biggest roles up to that time.

Alternate Ending (1:49) has what happened to one of the characters that was late for the reunion at the bar. De Niro talks of meeting Frankenheimer for the first time.

Theatrical Trailer (2:28) has De Niro ready to take Europe by force.

Gallery (0:37) has dozens of publicity photos and promotion artwork.

Ronin: Filming in the Fast Lane (17:45) is an archival behind-the-scenes featurette. They show off the chases through tight streets.

Through the Lens (17:57) is another visit with Fraisse during the production. There’s plenty of footage of him working with the camera on the locations.

The Driving of Ronin (15:29) is an archival featurette on the film’s legendary car stunts. They expose a few tricks of crashing in France.

Natascha McElhone: An Actor’s Process (13:57) is an archival interview about how she had to prepare for not merely working with legends, but high speed chases.

Composing the Ronin Score (11:52) is an archival interview with composer Elia Cmiral. He breaks down how his music reflects the movie.

In the Ronin Cutting Room (18:56) is an archival interview with editor Tony Gibbs. He gives a quick master class in how to splice for action without losing your actors.

Venice Film Festival interviews (20:41) sits down with Robert De Niro, Jean Reno and Natascha McElhone to talk about the productions.

Arrow Academy presents Ronin. Directed by: John Frankenheimer. Screenplay by: J.D. Zeik & Richard Weisz. Starring: Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean & Jonathan Pryce. Running Time: 121 minutes. Rated: R. Released: August 29, 2017.

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