John Frankenheimer’s film makes the groan-worthy mistake of explaining the significance of its title twice—first in a textual introduction, and later via an expository conversation between two characters. Yet in all other respects, the movie is a work of no-nonsense proficiency, moving at a fleet pace that allows the audience to revel in the sights and sounds of freelance ex-military professionals and criminals adeptly concocting and executing elaborate smash-and-grab plans.
Frankenheimer’s finely tuned action thriller shows a pretty grim Christmas season in France, but it can’t be any more dark than listening to that one relative bring up Isis while everyone’s trying to eat dinner. Wouldn’t you rather shut them up by showing them Jean Reno and Robert De Niro shoot their way through Nice? Ronin is an unconventional choice, but it made sense in my house with parents who were cinephiles like me and sisters mostly pretty tolerant of our unusual ideas of a good time.
As on his 1966 racing film Grand Prix, director John Frankenheimer required all the stunt driving to be done at full speed with no special effects. The results are pleasurably stressful, as reflected in De Niro’s white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel – he was actually in a car going 100mph, with his stunt driver operating the vehicle in the opposite seat.