Thursday, September 02, 2004


films involving guns & violent men are flavour of the month, it seems.

i recall seeing the promotional guff for 'ronin' back when it was released in 1997/98 or thereabouts. huge, brooding, greyish photos of the film's characters, hung high along the walls of melbourne's newly redeveloped 'jam factory' multiplex. ah, the jam factory - scene of so many nervous first-daters, so many teenage eastern suburb private school toughs in their ghetto fatigues, so many odd self-conscious wannabe-wanderers like me who i suspect still love the multiplex for what it represented as a ten-year-old - a weirdly warm, dimly-lit, dark-carpeted & magical den.

the big photos had accompanying captions - the names of each character &, from memory, their military 'speciality'; their 'role'. it was meant as a first glimpse at the concept of 'ronin' - a japanese term referring to samurai warriors whose masters had been murdered. 'ronin' subsequently went on solo revenge adventures, slaughtering all & sundry & eventually killing themselves when they felt vengeance had been achieved. here then, up on the wall, were 5 or 6 modern-day 'ronin'. not that any of this samurai stuff matters. the key points made by the posters were - a) robert de niro was in the film, & b) the range of terroristic talents on display ('explosives specialist', 'driver', 'weapons specialist' etc) promised one helluva classy bloodbath. i myself was happy to see the french actor jean reno had his own poster. after his wonderful effort alongside gary oldman & a very young natalie portman in 'the professional' (at the time i thought it one of the best films i'd ever seen, tho admittedly i haven't seen it since), i knew reno would be courted by hollywood for a blockbuster action role. after 'ronin' he even appeared in 'mission impossible', proof positive that he'd 'made it'.

thankfully he retains some class in a film that attempts to be too classy, too smart. the european locales (we start out in a rather quaint paris bar where the 'ronin' first gather, warily) are largely extraneous, even gratuitous - e.g. the paris tunnel in which princess di died features prominently in one of the film's boring, overlong car chases. character & plot-wise, this is an american action-film fantasy superimposed on european surrounds. the 'diverse & enigmatic but brilliant military talents joining forces' idea is classic action-film stuff, suited much better to blatant, up-front & effective bloodletting films like 'predator'. the 'action' in ronin is adjusted to meet apparently classy, european needs, i.e. the gunfighting is no-nonense, accurate & short-lived (the final confontration ends with only one boring bullet & an even boring-er last-line from the bad guy!). the ludicrous suggestion at the conclusion of the film - that the work of the 'ronin' has helped bring about a northern ireland peace accord - goes completely against the grain of what the film tries to achieve for its first two hours: a sense of independently volatile fighting geniuses. such an ending smacks of the big american action-film moral 'wrap-up'. (incidentally, the best cinematic evocation of the 'independent killers working together' idea is michael mann's 'heat' - a superlative film (also featuring de niro) which benefits from being completely oblivious to a larger world picture; it is purely a selfish character study focussed utterly on its underworld subject/subjects.)

the film might've been better had it completely ditched the whole 'ronin' premise, which by the way is introduced to us in big, over-important typeface before the movie starts. the director/writer seems to have thought that just by titling the film according to the premise, audiences would instinctively attribute more ambiguous depths to the characters involved. it doesn't work out, & even though the film tries to reinforce the theme by way of a reflective 'ronin' moment during a lull in the action, & by way of a 'ronin-esque' denial-of-romance plotline, the japanese connection remains strained.

probably worth watching once.


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