Jean-Pierre: The warrior code, the delight in the battle, you understand that, yes? But also something more. You understand there is something outside yourself that has to be served. And when that need is gone—when belief has died—what are you? A man without a master?
Sam: Right now, I'm a man without a paycheck.
In the aftermath of the Cold War
, many secret agents felt unnecessary or redundant. Even if the world wasn't all sunshine and rainbows, the way they worked just didn't seem to apply anymore. This film deals with some of these people, who are compared to Ronin
, the unemployed Samurai
of old Japan.
The plot centers around some mercenaries hired to steal a metal suitcase
, and the deals and double crosses to get whatever is inside it. Apparently it is valuable enough to cause lots of shootouts and memorable car chases.
Directed by John Frankenheimer
, and has Robert De Niro
heading a cast of notable character actors, such as Jean Reno
, Sean Bean
, Natascha McElhone
, Jonathan Pryce, and StellanSkarsgård
. The finished film was partially or completely written by David Mamet
depending on who you ask (original and credited screenwriter J.D. Zeik and others close to the production say Mamet only did some fleshing out of DeNiro's character, Frankenheimer says the script is all Mamet). The film was not particularly lucrative on release. It earned an estimated $41,616,262 in the United States market, only the 48th most successful film of its years. But it gained mostly positive reviews and a decent reputation. The film has sold well on DVD.
Ronin contains examples of:
- Action Girl: Dierdre, who is heavily involved in the firefight in Nice, then behind the wheel during the Paris car chase.
- Action Film, Quiet Drama Scene: The scene between Sam and Jean-Pierre.
- The Alleged Expert: Spence is supposedly a former SAS trooper turned mercenary. He's actually a fraud.
- Bluff the Impostor: When Sam suspects one of his colleagues isn't telling the truth about his background, he tests him with questions like "What's the colour of the boathouse at Hereford?" Sam doesn't know either, but he knows that a real SAS veteran wouldn't have been so flustered by the question that Sam could get the drop on him.
- Sam tests every one of his newly-met colleagues to gauge their skills and to figure out which ones don't belong... and who might be spying for the persons who hired them.
- Briefcase Full of Money: With the old "paper underneath the real bills" trick.
- Bullets Do Not Work That Way: After a gunfight, Sam reveals that a bullet went through his kevlar because the "smartass sprayed Teflon on his bullets." Teflon isn't what makes a bullet armor piercing. It's just a coating to protect the inside of the barrel on the bullet's way out of the gun.
- The Cameo: Olympic figure skater Katarina Witt as skater Natacha Kirilova.
- Porn star Ron Jeremy in a Deleted Scene (cut because a lot of people in previews knew who he was, and it was too jarring).
- The Caper: The first part of the movie.
- Chase Scene: The car chases are some of the most praised by action buffs.
- Chekhov's Gun: A coffee cup.
- Cool Gun: Gregor's silenced Sniper Pistol during the Jeep/playground scene has more mass in attachments than in actual weapon.
- Every Car Is a Pinto: Several cars crash and explode.
- Fakeout Makeout
- Femme Fatale: Dierdre.
- The 47 Ronin: Described in-film by a history buff who tries to identify Sam as a ronin in spirit. Sam rejects the comparison but it turns out he's still a 'samurai'.
- Former Regime Personnel
- Genre Throwback: The film is essentially a classic 1970's era heist film, but made and set in the late 1990's.
- The Ghost: The man in the wheelchair, who put together the recruits but is never shown.
- Heterosexual Life-Partners: Sam and Vincent.
- Hollywood Tactics: Spence's plan to capture the briefcase. Sam calls him out on it.
- Kill the Cutie: Natacha
- Meaningful Echo: Sam claims the man he's talking to about triangulating a phone number is a friend from high school. Obviously it isn't true, as Vincent realises, but he doesn't actually care and repeats the claim about his own friend later on. His refusal to knock him out suggests Vincent may have been telling the truth though.
- Michael Lonsdale appears as a colleague of Reno's who helps with Sam's surgery after a shoot-out, and who happens to be a fan of The 47 Ronin legend.
- The Lancer: Vincent, to Sam's more heroic protagonist.
- MacGuffin: The case, the contents of which are never revealed. Sam isn't pleased at all when Dierdre refuses to give any details on what's in the case ("is it heavy, is it explosive?") and demands that if it's "amateur night," they're all going to have to be paid much, much more. Turns out in the end that Sam wasn't even interested in the case. He was after Dierdre's boss Seamus, an Irish terrorist leader who was getting in the way of peace talks, and the case was just a way to get him into the open.
- The Mafiya
- Miles Gloriosus: Spence is quite quickly revealed to be this.
- The Mole: Sam never left the CIA.
- Noisy Nature: Just an hour into the film, which takes place in central France, we get an aerial view of a hilly Mediterranean countryside, and the stereotypical "eagle cry" of the Red-tailed Hawk, which is from North America.
- Oh, Crap: The look on Gregor's face when he realizes the Russians are perfectly willing to let Natacha die. That look doesn't last long.
- Oireland: Natascha McElhone's accent as Dierdre isn't like any real Irish one.
- Pretty in Mink: Natacha (the skater) wears a mink coat in her first scene. She gets killed, but it's because her Jerkass friend lets her die.
- Pretty Little Headshots: One is inflicted upon Gregor.
- Prove I Am Not Bluffing: Gregor shoots at a random child in a playground just to make the point that he's a conscienceless killer who shouldn't be doublecrossed. The man he is dealing with frantically assures him that the demonstration will not be necessary, and pushes away his hand so the bullet misses.
- Put on a Bus: Spence (Sean Bean) once Sam reveals that Spence was lying about his background.
- The Reveal: "I never left."
- Rogue Agent: The characters are former Cold War spies and special forces operatives working as mercenaries, but at least one—and possibly others—are still secretly working for their own governments. Likewise the terrorist Seamus is described by the IRA as a 'rogue breakaway operative' after he fails to get his hands on the mysterious suitcase.
- Self-Surgery: Done by Sam. For his credit, he mostly acted as an instructor and asked if they now manage to stitch him before passing out. And with the final reveal we learn he did it only to uphold the masquerade .
- Terse Talker: The movie is a masterclass on laconic dialogue. Major plot twists that other movies would build whole scenes around are delivered in single, brief sentences ( "I never left.") and every piece of exposition is given in cryptic bursts of Noodle Incidence ("Vienna."). The only exception is a brief news report at the very end, which makes sense: it's not meant for the shadowy world of spies the movie inhabits.
- Title Drop: The doctor has a bunch of tiny samurai figurines set up to depict the story of The 47 Ronin. He and Sam have a conversation comparing the mercenaries to ronin.
- Toyota Tripwire: Happens to Gregor in Arles.
- The Unfettered: Gregor. Not deranged, but willing to kill a little girl he doesn't know to demonstrate willingness to kill someone he does. Also arranges to have another innocent murdered if he dies during the climax. He does, and so do they. Barely emotes throughout the whole film.
- Unishment: Once Spence is outed as a faker, he's simply told to take a hike and given a payoff to keep his mouth shut. Considering what usually happens to characters played by Sean Bean, it's a pretty good deal even without the hush money.
- The Unreveal: Whatever is in the case, it might as well belong to Marcellus Wallace. This irritates Sam, since knowing if it was heavy, explosive, fragile, or whatever would be helpful in getting it (and his CIA handlers presumably do want to know its contents). He thus demands that the fee goes up.
- We Have to Get the Bullet Out: Sam catches a bullet and has some impromptu surgery at the hideout.
- What Happened to the Mouse?: The fate of Dierdre. A Deleted Scene at the end would have shown her getting caught and killed by her former IRA partners.
- Whatever happens to Spence. Most action films made during this era would have a character that disappeared early on (especially a well-known actor like Sean Bean) return during the pivotal Final Battle. He doesn't.
- Why Don't Ya Just Shoot Him?: Sergei and Seamus both fall for this, though it's not as blatant as normal.
- Why We Are Bummed Communism Fell