We may have globe-trotting spy thrillers dropping once in a while, but at one point the genre pulled in huge international business for Hollywood. John Frakenheimer’s Ronin may be one of the last gasps before the focus shifted to bigger-budgeted superhero entertainment. Kino Lorber upgrades this thriller to 4K Ultra HD with a new 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR that pulls well ahead of the previous 2017 Blu-ray release from Arrow. While no new special features are included, most of the supplements from previous releases have been carried over. This release comes Recommended!
Full disclosure: John Frankenheimer is one of those filmmakers that made me deeply appreciate film at a very young age. Between The Manchurian Candidate and The Train, I saw just how revolutionary his clean, clear, and unfussy style could be with the right story. A friend and I remark frequently upon how Frankenheimer could always light a stage, and that applies to Ronin. The filmmaker was always capable of positioning the viewer wherever the story wanted them to be, and the viewer almost always understood where they should be looking. They may not know the motivations of the characters, but they’re sure as hell going to see how these characters interact with their environment and each other, thus painting a full dramatic picture on both a textual and sub-textual level. Plus, you know, I get a real kick out of the hilarious rumor that Michael Bay is John Frankenheimer’s illegitimate son.
Ronin follows a group of former special operatives that must team together to find and steal a heavily guarded briefcase in Paris. Naturally, the maze of shifting loyalties and intentions causes the group to splinter almost immediately, but the intrigue never stops. Starring a huge international cast, including Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natasha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce, Ronin revels in the grand joy created by watching all these acting powerhouses perform something so steely, cool, and understated. And yes, the idea of a bunch of discarded spies banding together to go after a MacGuffin is silly in itself, and the punchy script by David Mamet also revels in that.
Frankenheimer was known for some of the best car chases ever committed to celluloid, like those in Grand Prix, and he’s rightfully heralded for all the chases in Ronin. The government of Paris helped the filmmaker make sure he had plenty of access to launch these claustrophobic sequences on skinny streets and tight turns with danger everywhere. And although Robert De Niro looks mostly mortified when the chases change to shots of his face, you’ll have a hard time not feeling exhilarated all the same. In Ronin, the story is always in motion, thus the characters must be as well. Storytelling on the fly is something Frankenheimer was terrific at, and a thing where many modern action filmmakers fall completely flat.
That isn’t to say that Ronin is some slam-bang, thrill-a-minute actioner. On the contrary, it’s a character-driven plot that expands out to these big action sequences to follow up on the promises doled out throughout the film. All the shifting character motivations and intrigue are not meant to as misdirection but added fuel to a pot that will soon explode. And explode it does, wonderfully.
Vital Disc Stats: The 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray
It’s time to get behind the wheel of a BMW and burn rubber through Paris in Ronin, presented here as a two-disc release from Kino Lorber. There’s a UHD100 for the main 4K feature and a BD50 for the standard feature and supplements. Both discs boot up to standard menu screens with options to play the film, set up audio, browse special features and select chapters.
Ronin was shot on 35mm and in the Super 35 format, making it a really good candidate for a fresh 4K scan from the OCN and a beautiful new HDR color grade. And that’s exactly what we get here, folks! KLSC’s new HEVC-encoded 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR is sourced from a new 4K scan of the 35mm original camera negative and the result is not short of stellar. As someone who owned the 2017 Arrow Blu-ray, I’d say this is a much more accurate representation of the steely, grey-occupied palette that the film has to offer.
The source looks to be in incredible condition with nary a nick or bump to be found throughout, and film grain is offered very lightly, which isn’t surprising given the year of this production and the film stock they were using. Finite features, including facial textures, and those overhead shots of Paris are all rendered beautifully with rich detail to take in. Frankenhemier’s deep focus and use of split diopter shots look better than ever, and the darker, shadow-riddled sequences offer much deeper blacks than the 2017 Blu-ray. Highlights look good as well, like flashes from guns and the sun. The wider color gamut helps to bring out more nuances in clothing, facial features and shadows. The standard Blu-ray included also has the upgraded transfer.
Kino Lorber provides DTS-HD MA 5.1 and 2.0 mixes on this release. I listened to the 5.1 mix and noticed that it’s certainly a bit fuller and more nuanced than the presentation of this mix on the 2017 Blu-ray. Dialogue and music are balanced well, and the roaring of car engines, gunshots, screeching tires, and people yelling all sound terrific. Bass is appreciable as well and it’s clear that the 5.1 track makes the most of the enveloping surround sound environment.
Kino Lorber carries over a ton of previous supplements from the MGM DVD and Arrow Blu-ray releases of Ronin to this release. While a couple of features are omitted, like a photo gallery on the Arrow release, what you get here is still very nice. In particular, the interview with Robert Fraisse goes a bit deep on Frankenheimer’s directing style and is really pleasing to listen to
Disc 1: 4K Ultra HD Feature
Disc 2: Blu-ray Feature & Supplements
John Frankenheimer and his mastery of the action thriller roared back to life in 1998’s Ronin, available now in 4K Ultra HD from Kino Lorber with a two-disc release that offers a beautiful 2160p presentation aided by Dolby Vision HDR and a great supplements package to boot. See cars speed through the streets of Paris and Nice in stunning 4K with this Recommended release!