Car Movies We Dig: “Ronin”

The 1998 action movie “Ronin” wasn’t one of Robert DeNiro’s more popular endeavors, despite a great script (David Mamet was involved), great cast (Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean) and the great John Frankenheimer directed it.

One doesn’t associate DeNiro with car chase flicks but like most of his work “Ronin” is dope and is on heavy rotation at the Castro Compound. Putting DeNiro and Frankenheimer together created cinematic gold and an iconic car chase movie.

“Thirty years after Bullitt, director John Frankenheimer raised the stakes and delivered arguably the greatest car chase movie of all.” – GQ U.K. 


When you watch the clip above what one can notice and appreciate is the absolute realism of the scene. Real drivers, real cars, and true vehicle physics, none of that Fast and Furious CGI shenanigans. (Editor’s note: I love the Fast and Furious franchise but the stunts aren’t very legit.)

Frankenheimer’s uses old school techniques (he’s been a director since the early 1960s) and it shows during “Ronin”. The car chases are real, visceral and true.

“We didn’t use any of that computer shit,” Frankenheimer said. “Everything you see, we really did.”

Frankenheimer’s resume as a director is impressive for cinephiles and for those that dig car movies:

  • The Manchurian Candidate
  • Grand Prix
  • Birdman of Alcatraz
  • Black Sunday (not a great movie but entertaining)
  • Seven Days In May

The plot of “Ronin” is pretty simple: a diverse group of former of government agents are brought together to retrieve a suitcase before it is sold to the Russians. The group that has been assembled by an Irish woman, Deirdre (Natascha McElhone), and includes Sam (Robert DeNiro), Jean Reno (Vincent), Spence (Sean Bean), Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard) and Larry (Skipp Sudduth).

Britannica defines “Ronin” as, “…any of the masterless samurai warrior aristocrats of the late Muromachi (1138–1573) and Tokugawa (1603–1867) periods who were often vagrant and disruptive and sometimes actively rebellious.”

The group in “Ronin” are all masterless agents from different countries trying to ply their talents and make a living in a post Cold War era. The plot is simple and it works but the main selling points of the movie are the car chases and European backdrop.

For the car chases Frankenheimer brought in Formula 1 driver Jean-Pierre Jarier. In his 11-year F1 career he had 135-starts and garnered three podiums. To give the audience the feeling that the movie stars were driving, the vehicles used were right-hand drive with the stunt drivers at the helm and the actors were on the left mimicking the wheelman’s movement.

During the production 300 stunt drivers were used and 80 cars were destroyed. In the movie Larry requests a 1996 Audi S8 D2 for the mission:

“Something very fast. Audi S8. Something that can shove a little bit. I’m also gonna need a nitrous system.” – Larry

It’s been 23-years since “Ronin” was released and the movie holds up, especially the car chase scenes. Give it a peep, you’ll dig it.