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3 items from 1998


Film review: 'Ronin'

14 September 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

The end of the Cold War has frozen a lot of old-time covert operatives -- ours and theirs -- out of a job. Times are tough for these grizzled warriors, as we see in "Ronin", a hard-edged, bullet-paced thriller directed with savvy and skill by John Frankenheimer.

Starring Robert De Niro and featuring a well-chosen, talented international cast -- including Jean Reno, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce -- the United Artists entrant, playing at the Toronto International Film Festival, should flush out a solid domestic showing and go on to international ascendancy, appealing to fans of the spy-thriller genre as well as mainstreamers who will need a seat belt to survive Frankenheimer's hypercharged car chases.

The title itself refers to a warrior class of samurai in feudal Japan who were sworn to protect their liege lords with their lives but failed in that hallowed capacity. These ronin, whose lords were killed, were greatly shamed and ultimately ostracized, surviving as mercenary swords or bandits.

Although the former spies and operatives in this film have not failed in any way in protecting and enforcing their duties, the present-day, post-glasnost folks here are, similarly, warriors without a leader -- reduced to scavenging missions for their very survival, economic as well as psychological.

In this contemporary spin, De Niro stars as Sam, a wise American operative whose formidable, specialized skills have little place in today's downsized world of covert activities. Sam's at the peak of his professionalism but, maddeningly, has no mission worthy of his prowess. Worse, he's strapped for cash. That's roughly the same fate as his peers, friend and foe alike, who come together at the behest of a mysterious employer who has cases of cash in exchange for a deadly, dangerous mission.

In addition to Sam, these post-Cold War warriors include Vincent (Reno), the French coordinator; Larry (Skipp Sudduth), the driver; Gregor (Skarsgard), the electronics specialist; Spence (Bean), a weapons specialist; Deidre (Natascha McElhone), the client contact and the woman with the cash; and Seamus (Pryce), Deidre's mysterious partner. Their mission: to recover a well-guarded suitcase and turn it over to Deidre. What's in the suitcase is none of their business.

Narratively, this escapade is tightly wired with all the right generic components as Sam and company attempt to carry out their suitcase-retrieval mission. In turn, each warrior unsheathes his or her professional expertise in fascinating and tantalizing order; quite niftily, screenwriters J.D. Zeik and Richard Wiesz complicate and heighten the danger at every juncture.

While the hardware gadgetry and insider spy stuff is fascinating, "Ronin"'s edge is sharpest in its murkier moments -- the cafe-noir philosophizing between De Niro and Reno. There's a weary angst and nostalgia for the older, more defined times between these two modern-day mercenaries, and we get a sense of the moral ambiguity attendant in this new world disorder. At least in the old days, you knew with whom to cast your allegiance.

While we get a sense of this professional and personal turpitude, mainly through De Niro and Reno's grizzled and steely performances and Frankenheimer's stirring use of locale and atmosphere, the screenplay itself is a mere rapier rather than a full-edged sword, sharp but too thin to penetrate the flesh. Other than their beards' stubble, there's not much on these characters' bones, even considering the tight strictures and demands of this type of wide-canvass scenario.

Essentially, we don't particularly care much about the characters, though, owing to Frankenheimer's torqued direction and the skilled performances, we're thrust fast-forward along the winding, deep-drop story road. Genre aficionados will be further disappointed by the narrative's predictability and numbed by the astounding, simplistic soupiness of the suitcase's contents.

Despite the script, the performances -- especially from De Niro and Reno -- are engaging and overall charged.

Visually, "Ronin" is no mere attendant lord, owing to Frankenheimer's sharp and grainy eye. The director, who lived in France in the late '60s, has succinctly conveyed a moral/political world as if visualized through a dirty glass in a corner bistro. The atmospherics are so dense that one almost smells the stale odor of Gallois smoke, a credit to Frankenheimer and his skilled technical crew for capturing the flavor and worldview of this genre.

RONIN

MGM Distribution Co.

United Artists Pictures presents

an FGM Entertainment production

A John Frankenheimer Film

Director: John Frankenheimer

Screenwriters: J.D. Zeik, Richard Weisz

Producer: Frank Mancuso Jr.

Executive producer: Paul Kelmenson

Costume designer: May Routh

Director of photography: Robert Fraisse

Production designer: Michael Z. Hanan

Editor: Tony Gibbs

Music: Elia Cimiarl

Color/stereo

Cast:

Sam:: Robert De Niro

Vincent: Jean Reno

Deidre: Natascha McElhone

Seamus: Jonathan Pryce

Gregor: Stellan Skarsgard

Spence: Sean Bean

Running time --122 minutes

MPAA rating: R

»

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Film review: 'Regeneration' "Regeneration" was originally reviewed Feb. 4 at the Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival. Alliance Releasing opens the film today in New York and Los Angeles.

14 August 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Based on English author Pat Barker's acclaimed 1991 novel, "Regeneration" is a searingly profound drama about shell-shocked soldiers in World War I receiving psychological treatment with the goal of returning them to the front.

Well-received in Palm Springs and eminently worthy of distribution, the English-Canadian production features outstanding performances by lead Jonathan Pryce and a trio of sterling supporting players -- James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller and Stuart Bunce -- as well as superb direction by Gillies MacKinnon and a terrific script by seasoned veteran Allan Scott ("Don't Look Now", "In Love and War" and many others).

For centuries, the rallying cry of soldiers in harm's way was "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country). But the apocalyptic conflict raging in 1917, when the movie takes place, is nothing but a massive slaughter that profoundly affects anyone who takes part in it -- even if they interact only with the wounded survivors.

Set mainly in the soggy climes of Scotland, where British officers and ordinary soldiers are brought to Edinburgh's Craiglockart Hospital to recover from the horrors of trench warfare, "Regeneration" opens with a stunning overhead shot of a muddy battlefield littered with the dead and dying.

The film is a stirring, mostly true anti-war story that leaves one moved and angered by the inhumanity of political and ideological forces that reduce individuals to so much cannon fodder.

A kind and empathetic professional, Dr. William Rivers (Pryce) pursues hypnosis as a cure for his patients, even if the method is not always successful. In a scene late in the film, he takes a much-needed break and observes the practices of a rival (David Hayman), who uses shock therapy. It's a vicious continuation of the cruelty, and Rivers is not converted. On the verge of his own nervous breakdown, he begins to seriously question the official practice of "regenerating" the poor souls in his care.

Wilby ("Howards End") is noble but aloof as the aristocratic poet Siegfried Sassoon, who refuses to acknowledge that he's a war hero and goes through with the unthinkable: a public denouncement of the war as a terrible crime perpetrated and prolonged by the European ruling classes. Rivers knows his duty, but he's sympathetic to some degree with Wilby and tries to dissuade him from going further with a protest that will most likely result in a court-martial.

As gentle poet Wilfred Owen, Bunce ("First Knight") draws one into the creative world his character shares with Sassoon, an unfriendly bloke who encourages the novice writer to create such masterpieces as "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Equally memorable, Miller ("Trainspotting") has potent screen presence as Prior.

»

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Film review: 'Regeneration'

4 February 1998 | The Hollywood Reporter | See recent The Hollywood Reporter news »

Based on English author Pat Barker's acclaimed 1991 novel, "Regeneration" is a searingly profound drama about shell-shocked soldiers in World War I receiving psychological treatment with the goal of returning them to the front.

Well-received at the Nortel Palm Springs International Film Festival and eminently worthy of distribution, the English-Canadian production features outstanding performances by lead Jonathan Pryce and a trio of sterling supporting players -- James Wilby, Jonny Lee Miller and Stuart Bunce -- as well as superb direction by Gillies MacKinnon and a terrific script by seasoned veteran Allan Scott ("Don't Look Now", "In Love and War" and many others).

For centuries, the rallying cry of soldiers in harm's way was "dulce et decorum est pro patria mori" (it is sweet and fitting to die for one's country). But the apocalyptic conflict raging in 1917, when the movie takes place, is nothing but a massive slaughter that profoundly affects anyone who takes part in it -- even if they interact only with the wounded survivors.

Set mainly in the soggy climes of Scotland, where British officers and ordinary soldiers are brought to Edinburgh's Craiglockart Hospital to recover from the horrors of trench warfare, "Regeneration" opens with a stunning overhead shot of a muddy battlefield littered with the dead and dying.

The film is a stirring, mostly true anti-war story that leaves one moved and angered by the inhumanity of political and ideological forces that reduce individuals to so much cannon fodder.

A kind and empathetic professional, Dr. William Rivers (Pryce) pursues hypnosis as a cure for his patients, even if the method is not always successful. In a scene late in the film, he takes a much-needed break and observes the practices of a rival (David Hayman), who uses shock therapy. It's a vicious continuation of the cruelty, and Rivers is not converted. On the verge of his own nervous breakdown, he begins to seriously question the official practice of "regenerating" the poor souls in his care.

Wilby ("Howards End") is noble but aloof as the aristocratic poet Siegfried Sassoon, who refuses to acknowledge that he's a war hero and goes through with the unthinkable: a public denouncement of the war as a terrible crime perpetrated and prolonged by the European ruling classes. Rivers knows his duty, but he's sympathetic to some degree with Wilby and tries to dissuade him from going further with a protest that will most likely result in a court-martial.

As gentle poet Wilfred Owen, Bunce ("First Knight") draws one into the creative world his character shares with Sassoon, an unfriendly bloke who encourages the novice writer to create such masterpieces as "Anthem for Doomed Youth". Equally memorable, Miller ("Trainspotting") has potent screen presence as Prior.

REGENERATION

Rafford Films, Norstar Entertainment,

BBC Films, Scottish Arts Council Lottery Fund

Director: Gillies MacKinnon

Producers: Allan Scott, Peter R. Simpson

Screenwriter: Allan Scott

Based on the novel by: Pat Barker

Executive producers: Saskia Sutton, Mark Shivas

Director of photography: Glen Macpherson

Production designer: Andy Harris

Costume designer: Kate Carin

Casting: Sarah Trevis

Color/stereo

Cast:

Dr. William Rivers: Jonathan Pryce

Siegfried Sassoon: James Wilby

Billy Prior: Jonny Lee Miller

Wilfred Owen: Stuart Bunce

Sarah: Tanya Allen

Dr. Bryce: David Hayman

Running time -- 113 minutes

MPAA rating: R

»

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3 items from 1998


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