Greatest Film Scenes
and Moments

Ronin (1998)


Written by Tim Dirks

Title Screen
Movie Title/Year and Scene Descriptions

Ronin (1998)

In director John Frankenheimer's suspenseful post-Cold War heist caper and espionage thriller, similar to the James Bond or Mission: Impossible films, Bullitt (1968), Reservoir Dogs (1992), Japan's Chushingura (1962) and its 'Tale of the 47 Ronin,' and The French Connection (1971) - it contained two of the best white-knuckle, hair-raising, most realistic car chase sequences ever filmed, on the streets of Nice and Paris. It also featured nefarious deals, explosions, alliances, mistrust and betrayals, multiple shoot-outs, and other male-oriented action.

It was explained with title cards that the film's title Ronin referred indirectly to members of the Japanese samurai warrior class in feudal Japan who were forced to roam the countryside with great shame, looking for work as hired swords or bandits, after failing to protect their masters (liege lords). The masterless warriors were no longer called samurai, but Ronin. In the film, it referred to a team of former intelligence operatives hired as a team. [Note: The film concluded with only one of the operatives still a mole and identified as a samurai, in spirit - SAM - short for samurai.]

In the film's plot, a group of displaced spies and political agents were brought together in a Montmartre bistro, and then led to a Parisian warehouse where Irish IRA terrorist organizer Deirdre (Natascha McElhone) (and femme fatale) offered to hire them as an international team of specialists (all ex government officials or covert military-mercenary operatives) with one purpose in mind - to ambush a heavily-armed convoy and retrieve a mysterious silver metal briefcase desired by both the Irish and the Russians - contents unknown (the film's obvious Hitchcockian 'McGuffin') - that was handcuffed to its courier [Note and Spoiler: The case was probably a decoy to lure out a rogue IRA operative by film's end]:

  • Sam (Robert De Niro), an ex- CIA elite covert operations strategist with loyalties to no one
  • Vincent (Jean Reno), Sam's buddy, a Frenchman, an ex- Euro intelligence agent
  • Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard), a German computer-electronics expert, shady, cold and methodical; also opportunistic and not to be trusted
  • Spence (Sean Bean), a Britisher weapons specialist (quickly dropped after being exposed as a naive fraud)
  • Larry (Skip Sudduth), an American, hired as a designated driver

Deirdre (Natascha McElhone)

Sam (Robert De Niro)

Vincent (Jean Reno)

Spence (Sean Bean)

Gregor (Stellan Skarsgard)

Seamus O'Rourke (Jonathan Pryce)

During a deal set up by Spence to acquire weapons for their job, Sam cleverly saw and warned that it was a set-up when he spotted a sniper and shot him dead, and subsequent gunfire also eliminated the other dealers. The team escaped with the weapons they needed. Sam cleverly exposed Spence as an unqualified fraud (with inept plans) and he was dropped from the team.

In Nice, France during early surveillance and stakeouts, Deirdre and Sam posed as husband and wife in their car and became romantically involved. They also pretended to make out in public so that they could be photographed and acquire pictures of the steel case and its protectors. They soon learned from Deirdre's rogue operative-handler Seamus O'Rourke (Jonathan Pryce) who was giving orders, that they were competing with members of the Russian mafia for the steel case.

A chase sequence began with an ambush and fierce gun-battle in Nice, France, orchestrated by Sam and Vincent, in order to intercept a steel briefcase (handcuffed to a courier) in a car within a convoy. The chase after the convoy mainly involved a 1996 Audi S8 (driven by Larry) and a 1995 Citroen XM (the target car), while a Mercedes Benz 450SEL (Sam and Vincent) was a backup car following them. Out of town, cars careened on a twisting and winding Cote d'Azur coast-side road along the French Riviera. One of the convoy's escort cars was blown up with a rocket-launcher. When two of the cars were diverted off the main road due to construction, the chase continued on a dirt road, and then returned to the narrow streets of the town of Nice, and plowed through an open market. The chase ended when the cars crashed and plowed through a harbor/waterfront restaurant where diners were eating streetside, and a major gunbattle ensued, as Gregor stole the case.

After the successful ambush of the convoy near Nice, France, double-crossing Gregor betrayed the team by absconding with the case (and swapping it with a silver spray-painted, replicated duplicate containing a bomb). He then attempted to negotiate with Russian thugs led by Mikhi (Féodor Atkine) to purchase and acquire the case. During a tense standoff between the team and Gregor with the Russians, Sam was seriously wounded in the abdomen by a ricocheted bullet, and Gregor was captured by Seamus with Deirdre.

In a rural villa of Vincent's wise friend Jean-Pierre (Michael Lonsdale), Sam instructed others during surgery to help remove a bullet from his side, claiming: "I once removed a guy's appendix with a grapefruit spoon", urging: "Don't take it out unless you really got it', and finally: "Do you think you can stitch me up on your own? If you don't mind, I'm gonna pass out.''

Back in Paris, Gregor picked up the suitcase that he had mailed to himself at a post office, and returned the case to his escorts, Deirdre and Seamus.

There was another thrilling 9 minute high-speed car chase (the second major high-speed chase of the film) between a blue 1996 Peugeot 406 driven by Sam (with Vincent) who were chasing a black 1991 BMW M5, driven by Deirdre (with Seamus in the back seat and Gregor in the front seat) in a high-speed pursuit through Parisian streets and a metro tunnel under the Seine River and continuing into wrong-way, heavy freeway traffic, causing crashes and pileups. They were also pursued by French police in Citroen ZXs. The car chase ended when the tires on Deirdre's car were shot at, causing it to upend, roll and crash, careen off the end of an uncompleted highway, and burst into flames. Gregor escaped with the case, while Seamus and Deirdre were rescued from the flaming car.

9-Minute Climactic Car Chase Through Paris

Another rendezvous was set up between Gregor and Mikhi to exchange the case during a figure-skating performance of Mikhi's Russian girlfriend Natacha Kirilova (real-life East German Olympic skater Katarina Witt) at a local indoor arena known as Le Zenith. Gregor's threat that his unnamed female sniper would kill Natacha if Mikhi betrayed him and didn't pay him ended up with him being heartlessly outwitted - the countdown reached zero and she was shot dead. Gregor was also killed by Mikhi's gunman (with a silencer) with a shot to the forehead, before they fled with the case. Outside the arena as Sam and Vincent observed, Seamus (disguised as an arena security guard) confronted Mikhi, murdered him, and reacquired the case. Separately, Sam and Vincent continued the pursuit.

Before Seamus reached Deirdre in a getaway car, Sam spoke to her. She begged him: "Come with me, forget about the case," but then he admitted: "I didn't come for the case, I came for your boss. I came for Seamus. I came for him...I never left, don't you see?" - he had never left the CIA and was still an undercover operative working to capture the terrorist Seamus. Deidre chose to drive off, but her exit was blocked by the crowds. Meanwhile, Vincent was shot and wounded by Seamus, who fled back inside the arena. Sam kept up the chase after Seamus, but was ambushed, shot and wounded. As Sam was about to be executed, the wounded Vincent saved him by firing from the scaffolding above the arena, and killing Seamus.

In the final scene, Sam and Vincent were in the same Montmartre bistro from the film's opening, where Sam's mind was on whether Deirdre would walk through the door to him or not, rather than listening to a BBC radio report that the death of Irish rogue terrorist operative Seamus meant stability and peace between the Sinn Féin and the British. Vincent cautioned his friend: "She will not be coming back here." When Vincent asked about the contents of the case, Sam replied: "I don't remember." In voice-over, Vincent had learned a lesson: ("No questions. No answers. That's the business we're in. You accept it and move on. Maybe that's lesson number three").

Romantic Involvement of Sam with Femme Fatale Deirdre In a Car During a Stakeout

(l to r): Sam and Vincent Pursuing a Convoy Escort Car Along the French Riviera Outside of Nice

Escort Car Blown Up with Rocket-Launcher

Pursuit Diverted onto Dirt Road

Back into the Narrow Streets of Nice

Courier in Back of Target Car Handcuffed to the Steel-Metal Briefcase

End of Nice Chase - Crash In Front of Harbor-Side Restaurant

Gregor Stealing the Metal Case After the Nice Chase

Sam's Instructions During Surgery to Remove a Bullet from His Side

Gregor's Unnamed Sniper Threatening to Kill Mikhi's Own Russian Girlfriend Natacha Kirilova (Katarina Witt)

Russian Mikhi (Féodor Atkine) Negotiating to Purchase Case from Gregor

Gregor Double-Crossed and Shot In Forehead by Mikhi's Sniper

Final Scene: Vincent and Sam in a Bistro


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