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Ronin promotional movie poster
Directed by John Frankenheimer
Produced by Frank Mancuso Jr.
Written by J.D. Zeik (story)
David Mamet (screenplay,
as Richard Weisz)
Starring Robert De Niro
Jean Reno
Natascha McElhone
Stellan Skarsgård
Katarina Witt
Michael Lonsdale
Sean Bean
and Jonathan Pryce
Music by Elia Cmiral
Cinematography Robert Fraisse
Editing by Tony Gibbs
Studio FGM Entertainment
United Artists
Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer
Release date(s) September 12, 1998 (Venice Film Festival)
Running time 121 min.
Country United States
Language English
Budget US$55,000,000 (estimated)

Ronin is a 1998 action-thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer and written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet. It stars Robert De Niro and Jean Reno as two of several former special forces and intelligence agents who team up to steal a mysterious, heavily guarded suitcase while navigating a maze of shifting loyalties and alliances. The film is noted for its sensational car chases.



In a warehouse on the outskirts of Paris, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) meets with Spence (Sean Bean), Larry (Skipp Sudduth), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), Vincent (Jean Reno) and Sam (Robert De Niro), all former special forces soldiers or intelligence operatives. Deirdre briefs the men on their mission, attacking a heavily-armed convoy and stealing a briefcase, its contents unknown. Following the briefing, the team begins assembling their equipment, Deirdre meets with her handler Seamus O'Rourke (Jonathan Pryce), who reveals that Russian gangsters are bidding for the case and that the team must act quickly to intercept it. Later, Spence is exposed as a fraud and is summarily released from the team. The others depart for Nice, where over several days they observe the convoy and form an ambush plan. The team ambushes the convoy and pursues the survivors through the surrounding countryside. After a lengthy car chase and gun battle, Gregor betrays the team and steals the case for himself before disappearing.

Gregor attempts to sell the case to the Russians but shoots his contact when he attempts betrayal. Gregor contacts Mikhi, the leader of the gangsters and threatens to sell the case to the Irish unless Mikhi pays a grossly inflated price for the case, which Mikhi agrees to. Meanwhile, the rest of the team track Gregor through one of Sam's old CIA contacts and corner him in the Roman arena in Arles. Following a tense standoff and hectic firefight with Gregor and the Russians negotiating with him, Gregor escapes the coliseum but is kidnapped by Seamus, who kills Larry and escapes with Deirdre just as Sam and Vincent emerge from the coliseum. Sam, wounded from the fight, is taken by Vincent to his friend Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale) in a villa in rural France. After removing the bullet and allowing Sam time to recuperate, Vincent asks Jean-Pierre to help him locate Gregor, Deirdre and Seamus. Meanwhile, in a Paris slum, Seamus learns that Gregor has mailed the case to himself at a post office in Paris. Days later, as they retrieve the case in Paris, they are ambushed by Vincent and Sam, Sam confronts Deirdre who is waiting for Seamus and Gregor outside the post office. Realizing that Sam has feelings for her and won't execute her she speeds off and following a high-speed chase through the streets and tunnels of Paris, Vincent shoots out Dierdre's tires and sends her car over a highway overpass. Gregor emerges from the car with the briefcase while Deirdre and Seamus are later pulled away by construction workers shortly before the car explodes, Gregor once again escapes with the case.

Vincent and Sam, considering their options, discover that the case is identical to one used by figure skaters. Intelligence gleaned from Jean-Pierre's contacts also suggest the Russians are involved with figure skater Natacha Kirilova (Katarina Witt), the protégé of Mikhi and who has a show at the local arena. Vincent and Sam appear at the arena as Mikhi, already there with Natacha, receives a call from Gregor, who demands to meet in a backstage dressing room. At the meet, Mikhi exchanges money for the case when Gregor, prepared to leave, reveals that he has positioned a sniper somewhere in the arena who will shoot Natacha if Gregor is betrayed. Mikhi shoots Gregor regardless, allowing Natacha to be killed, and Mikhi prepares to leave with the case and his money. Meanwhile, Vincent and Sam follow the panicked crowd out of the arena in time to see Seamus ambush and shoot Mikhi before stealing the case. Sam runs ahead of Seamus and finds Deirdre sitting in the getaway car, where he asks her to leave the scene, revealing himself as an agent of the CIA currently pursuing Seamus. Sam urges Deirdre to leave, telling her that his target was Seamus and not the briefcase. Seamus shoots his way past the crowd back to the arena, with Sam in pursuit. In the final gunfight, Seamus wounds Sam and prepares to kill him when Vincent opens fire from the scaffolding, killing Seamus.

Days later, in a Parisian cafe, over radio broadcasts revealing a peace agreement reached between Sinn Féin and the British as a result of Seamus's death, Sam and Vincent part as friends before Sam drives off with his CIA contact. Vincent himself leaves and disappears into gloomy Paris. The contents of the case are never revealed.

Alternative Ending

The commercial version of the film ends with Deirdre leaving and her future remains uncertain. On the DVD, the deleted scenes show that she had gotten in touch with Sam and agreed to meet with him at the Parisian café where they had initially met, but before anyone arrives, she is kidnapped by men in a van who seem to belong the IRA and her end is quite certainly death.



Writer David Mamet is credited as "Richard Weisz", reportedly due to disappointment at having to share credit with Zeik (the originating writer). According to production sources (notably Zeik's lawyer), Mamet's contributions were "minor", limited to adding the character Deirdre and most of De Niro's scenes. According to Frankenheimer, "The credits should read: Story by J.D. Zeik, screenplay by David Mamet. We didn't shoot a line of Zeik's script."[1] This is confirmed by a copy of Zeik's original script, which shows his very minor contributions.[2]

The title is derived from the Japanese term ronin, used for samurai who have no master and whose motivations are largely based on money and survival instead of honor and duty. Many of the characters in the film are unemployed agents set adrift by the end of the Cold War. The film also makes a lengthy reference to the classic Japanese story, the 47 Ronin, further alluding to the identities of the protagonists and antagonists of the film.

According to Frankenheimer's recollections on the DVD, there were 2,200 shots used to film the story. He also notes that the film is unusual in containing no wipes, dissolves or similar techniques; all scene transitions are handled with suitably paced cuts.

Ronin is notable for a number of car chases, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris; some scenes used up to 300 stunt drivers according to the DVD director commentary. Car work has been a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former amateur racing driver[3], ever since his 1966 film, Grand Prix. Although action sequences are often shot by a second unit director, Frankenheimer did all these himself, and sometimes rode along. While he was aware of the many innovations in digital special effects since then, he elected to film all these sequences live, to obtain the maximum level of authenticity. To further this, many of the high-speed shots have the actual actors in the cars. Skipp Sudduth did nearly all of his own driving, while other cars were right hand drive models with stunt drivers driving - crashes were handled by a stuntman. To lend additional authenticity, the sound recordist re-recorded many of the vehicles in the chases to ensure that during the editing, the right sounds were dubbed in for each vehicle. The chases are also notable for their lack of musical score accompaniment, unusual in modern films, though the last chase ends with syncopated, non-melodic music. The choice of non-melodic music was easier to edit to, and has since become fashionable in film and television.[citation needed] Several cars are used in the chases, including a Audi S8, a Peugeot 406, a Citroën Xantia and XM, a BMW M5 and Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a rare Mercedes-Benz W116 variant with a high-powered engine, as noted by Frankenheimer in the DVD.[4]. Most famously, an Audi S8 is driven in Paris and Nice by Sudduth's character. As a result the car is rated 9th in Car magazine's Top 40 Coolest Movie Cars[5]. The Frankenheimer DVD commentary indicates that the cars were towed through the streets of France at high speed, not simulated, by a Mercedes-Benz 500E.

The final scene at the Paris Zénith had 2,000 extras, according to Frankenheimer.

The contents of the metal case are never revealed. Mamet has written that he believes revealing such details can be anticlimactic, that a director is wiser to allow the audience's imagination to answer the question. This is a technique Mamet has used repeatedly in his films. In fact, in earlier versions of the script, the briefcase is destroyed at the climax. Sam observes that only the top men in the Russian mob and the IRA, plus a handful of men in the CIA knew what was in the case. In the DVD's director's commentary, Frankenheimer says that in the film, Seamus is the only person who actually needs to know what the case contains. As an aside, on the film's web site when Ronin was in theatres, the public could suggest and vote for what they thought could be in the case. ' Other popular suggestions is that it contained a nuclear weapon initiator, which increases the yield of a thermo-nuclear weapon, hence the Russians were keen to get their hands on it.

Porn star Ron Jeremy had a small role playing a fishmonger in Paris whose stall is demolished during the chase, but his scene was cut by the studio when audiences laughed as he was recognized.[6] He is credited as "Ron Hiatt", which is similar to his surname by birth, "Hyatt".

DVD and Blu-ray release

The DVD release has an extensive, detailed commentary about the making of the film by Frankenheimer, where he explains the production techniques used to realize the high speed chases.

The DVD's paper insert includes excerpts from a Frankenheimer interview in which he discusses the chase through a Paris tunnel that is remarkably similar to the site of Princess Diana's death on 31 August 1997. The filming took place in a different tunnel, however. "Paris has a lot of tunnels," Frankenheimer commented. "That’s part of the thing about the city I wanted people to see. A crash in a tunnel in Paris is about as likely as someone having a crash on a freeway here. It happens all the time." (Rocky Mountain News, September 27, 1998).

The US edition of the original DVD release has several navigational hooks to DVD-ROM content, which were taken advantage of several weeks after the original release of the DVD, on MGM's website during a special 'RONIN' event where viewers would be taken on a guided tour of the making of RONIN. Making-of scenes shot during filming are hidden on the DVD, since they are not present on the main menu of the DVD you can only access them on a computer using the DVD-ROM program that is on the disc or using a DVD viewing program that let you navigate through the titles of the disc manually. A "Gold Edition" was briefly introduced on the market by MGM, however is no longer in production.

An alternate ending on the DVD depicts Deirdre being ambushed and carried off in a van, accused of treason by her Irish colleagues.

On October 11, 2004 a two-disc Special Edition of the film was released in the US. This new version contains the same material as the old single-disc version on disc one and on disc two there are supplemental material about the film: one documentary, six featurettes, and a picture gallery.

A Blu-ray Disc edition was also made available in 2008.



External links



Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From Wikiquote

Ronin is a 1998 film Action-Thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer.


  • No questions. No answers. That's the business we're in. You just accept it and move on. Maybe that's lesson number three.
  • Everyone is your brother, until the rent is due.


  • All good things come to those who wait.
  • Either you're part of the problem or you're part of the solution or you're just part of the landscape.


Sam: Whenever there is any doubt, there is no doubt. That's the first thing they teach you.
Vincent: Who taught you?
Sam: I don't remember. That's the second thing they teach you.

Deirdre: What exactly were you doing back here?
Sam': Lady, I never walk into a place I don't know how to walk out of.
Deirdre: Then why are you getting into that van?
Sam: You know the reason.

Jean-Pierre: The forty seven Ronin. Do you know it?
Jean-Pierre: Forty seven samurai, whose master was betrayed and killed by another lord. They became ronin, masterless samurai, disgraced by another man's treachery. For three years they plotted, pretending to be thieves, mercenaries, even madmen. That I didn't have time to do, and then one night they struck, slipping into the castle of their lord's betrayer and killing him.
Sam: Nice. I like that. My kind of job.
Jean-Pierre: There's something more. All forty seven of them committed seppuku, ritual suicide, in the courtyard of the castle.
Sam: Well, that I don't like so much.
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