The autumn leaves are falling like rain. Although my neighbors are all barbarians and you, you are a thousand miles away, there are always two cups at my table.

T’ang Dynasty poem

Ten thousand flowers in spring, the moon in autumn, a cool breeze in summer, snow in winter. If your mind isn't clouded by unnecessary things, this is the best season of your life.

~ Wu-men ~


Saturday, October 14, 2006

Ronin

浪人

One of my favorite 'spy' movies is on cable tonight. Ronin. If you click on the title of this post, you'll be directed to more information about this movie.

An excerpt from that page:

Released in 1998, Ronin is an action/thriller that tells the story of a group of former intelligence agents who team up to steal a mysterious metal case. Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, and Katarina Witt, with Jonathan Pryce and Michael Lonsdale in supporting roles.

The movie was written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet, and directed by John Frankenheimer. David Mamet served as a script doctor on the screenplay, being billed as "Richard Weisz". The Writers' Guild refused to allow him to get top billing for the writing credit, so he refused to allow his real name to be used.

The title is derived from the Japanese term ronin, used for samurai who had no master; some of the characters in the movie are unemployed agents set adrift by the end of the Cold War. The movie also makes a lengthy reference to the classic Japanese story, the 47 Ronin.

It is notable for a number of car chase scenes, the last being a particularly lengthy one through the streets and tunnels of Paris; some scenes utilized up to 150 stunt drivers. Car work has been a specialty of Frankenheimer, a former racing driver[citation needed], ever since his 1966 film, Grand Prix. Although action sequences are often shot by a second unit director, Frankenheimer did all these himself. 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: 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.

The contents of the metal case are never revealed (see MacGuffin). 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.

Ron Jeremy had a small role, credited as Hyatt. However, scenes involving him were eventually cut by the studio.

There has been speculation as of late that a sequel was to be filmed somewhere in Asia, with De Niro and Reno reprising their original roles alongside actors James Franco and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai.

Synopsis

Spoiler warning: Plot and/or ending details follow.

Ronin opens in a small café in Paris. Several former covert agents, from various countries and backgrounds, are meeting there to receive information on a new assignment. They are taken to a warehouse where a young Irish woman, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), informs them that they will have to steal a mysterious, silver-colored case. Deirdre is deliberately vague about the case and many of the details of the job; she only tells the team that the people who possess the case are “unpleasant.” It is also handcuffed to a man’s wrist and he is protected by an elite security detail. One of the agents, Sam (Robert De Niro), is suspicious from the outset, particularly when Deirdre rudely ignores his questions about the case’s contents.

The next evening, part of the team travels to a secret location near the River Seine to purchase the weapons they need for their mission. The deal goes badly when Sam spots a sniper, provoking a gun battle with the arms dealers. The team speeds away into the streets of Paris with the weapons, stopping momentarily when the agent who arranged the pickup, Spence (Sean Bean), becomes violently ill. He is later fired by Deirdre after Sam proves his incompetence.

Deirdre is informed that the retrieval of the case will be in Nice. Sam becomes a de facto negotiator for the team, demanding more money for each member since, as he correctly perceives, the job promises to be highly dangerous. Deirdre agrees to their new demands and they travel to southern France. With Deirdre’s assistance, Sam performs reconnaissance to determine the ability of the security detail protecting the man carrying the case.

The team goes forward with the theft. A furious chase ensues, ending near the waterfront in Nice. Sam’s team find themselves in a gun battle with the case’s security guards. During the fight one of Sam’s team, Gregor (Stellan Skarsgård), switches the case for a fake one. Gregor slips away after giving the fake to Sam, who discovers the switch. He throws the case away right before it explodes, injuring Larry (Skipp Sudduth).

Gregor intends to sell the case to a rich Russian gangster, Mikhi (Féodor Atkine), and meets with one of Mikhi’s subordinate’s to receive payment. After a brief conversation where Gregor reveals his murderous nature (he nearly shoots a little girl on a playground), the man pulls a hidden gun on Gregor. Gregor manages to overpower and kill the man and calls Mikhi to tell him that a new exchange will be arranged on Gregor’s terms.

Sam and the remainder of the team track Gregor to the city of Arles. Gregor meets with more of Mikhi’s men in the Arles amphitheatre but refuses to give them the case, believing he’ll be betrayed yet again. During his meeting with the men, Sam takes him hostage and demands to know where the case is. Gregor tells him that he mailed it to himself in Paris. Using some tourists as a distraction, Gregor escapes after a brief chase through the amphitheatre.

At the same time, Deirdre’s boss, Seamus (Jonathan Pryce) appears nearby and finds Larry in the getaway car. As Gregor approaches, Seamus captures him. Deirdre finds them both with Larry dead in the driver’s seat.

Sam and teammate, Vincent (Jean Reno), encounter Mikhi’s men in the amphitheatre. One of them, recognizing Vincent, is about to shoot Vincent when Sam distracts him. The man gets a shot off and the ricochet hits Sam in the side. Vincent shoots the man. Vincent and the injured Sam make their way to the getaway car just in time to see it leave. They steal a bystander’s car and drive into the nearby mountains.

Seamus and Deirdre take Gregor to Paris to retrieve the mailed case. It hasn’t arrived, infuriating Seamus, who takes Gregor to the Paris hideout. Seamus beats Gregor severely and harshly criticizes Deirdre’s handling of the job. Deirdre reminds Seamus that he’s a wanted fugitive and shouldn’t have resurfaced in Arles.

Vincent takes Sam to a friend’s house in the mountains. Under Sam’s instruction, Vincent and Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale) remove the bullet lodged in Sam’s abdomen. Vincent asks Jean-Pierre to find Seamus, Deirdre and Gregor. Sam recovers quickly and finds Jean-Pierre working on an elaborate diorama depicting the story of the 47 Ronin. Sam sees the parallels between his current work and the masterless samurai of the story.

Vincent and Sam travel to Paris and find the rest of the team as they pick up the case from the post office. Another chase ensues, this one traveling through several city tunnels, at times up the opposing traffic lanes. Vincent is able to disable Deirdre’s car, causing it to flip over and fall off the end of an unfinished bridge. All three manage to escape the explosion, Gregor with the case.

Vincent and Sam figure that Gregor must be trying to sell the case to the Russian mafia. They track him to a local skating arena. Gregor meets with Mikhi in a control booth and demands, in addition to the money for the case, that he be let free of any commitment to Mikhi. Mikhi shoots him. As Mikhi tries to leave the arena, he is shot dead by Seamus, who takes the case himself.

However, Sam stands between him and the escape car, driven by Deirdre. (Sam also reveals to her that he, in fact, never left the agency he worked for and is actually there to apprehend Seamus himself.) She drives away and Sam chases Seamus back into the arena. In the pursuit, Vincent is shot, as is Sam. As Seamus closes in to kill Sam, Vincent shoots him dead.

The fate of the case and its contents are unknown, however, a montage of news audio clips tell us that the killing of Seamas was somehow instrumental in ceasing the violence between the British government and the IRA. Vincent and Sam meet at the café from the beginning of the film, hoping to make contact with Dierdre, after concluding that she will not show, they part ways as friends.

In the original ending (included on the DVD), the viewer also sees Dierdre returning to the café, when she is abducted (and presumably killed) by her former IRA associates.

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