By: Nick Nunziata
September 25, 1998
The 70’s were a good, gritty time for action suspense films. Bullitt, The French Connection, Dirty Harry, not to mention Shaft, Foxy Brown, and the entire Dolemite collection. People like Quentin Tarantino go out of their way to make their films resemble the 70’s, but sometimes you’ve gotta put a film in the hands of a guy who’s BEEN THERE. Like Frankenheimer.
Directed by John (The French Connection 2, The Manchurian Candidate) Frankenheimer Starring Robert (Midnight Run, Heat) DeNiro, Jean (The Professional, La Femme Nikita) Reno, Stellan (The Hunt for Red October, Good Will Hunting) Skaarsgard, Natasha (The Truman Show, The Devil’s Own) McElhone, Jonathan (Tomorrow Never Dies, Glengarry Glen Ross) Pryce, Sean (Goldeneye, PAtriot Games) Bean
The title of the film refers to a Samurai warrior who chooses to go rogue after his master is unjustly shamed and waits for a chance to exact revenge in the name of honor. I thought the title would confuse filmgoers and hurt the film’s chances. Judging by the crowd Friday evening, I needn’t worry.
Bobby D. plays an ex-CIA operative who’s involved in a budding plan to procure a briefcase for an undisclosed source for a chunk of cash. Along with other retired professionals Reno (The French “find it” guy), McElhone (The Irish “team leader”), Bean (Irish “guns guy”), Skip Suddeth (American “driver”), and Skaarsgard (Russian “tech guy”) they work out a plan. Of course things go awry pretty quickly, or the film would have been 30 minutes long. DeNiro’s character is the consumate pro, and the scenes where he is showing the rest the flaws in the plan, or asking them all the details are terrific. He seems like a man who is weary of amateurism, and one who has been through 30 years of combat. After the end of the Cold War, the spy trade has become a lot more diluted, and as you watch the film, the title becomes more and more fitting. The interplay between the characters is key, because it can be easy to lose track. Allegiances fluctuate, and new faces appear and go. The best bet is to sit back and enjoy while the pieces fall relatively into place. Terrific action sets help things drastically. Several car chases happen, and in the style he used to great effect in the 70’s, Frankenheimer gives us a completely non glossy (for glossy, see “The Rock”. Easily the most overdone, albeit fun car chase there is) car chase involving the pricipals rocketing around France. It reminds us that fancy filters, camerawork, and jump cuts do not an action scene make. Also, the scenes where combat occurs: The underpass (a great scene), the shootout in Nice, France (shades of “Heat”), and the scene at the ice arena (with a cameo from eternally cute Katarina Witt) are truly terrific. It is these scenes that make up for the grainy, almost bland look of the film.
It looks like a foreign film, which it is, essentially. Also, the character interaction helps. DeNiro and Reno are a great twosome. Their bond seems genuine, and as the film progresses it improves. Suddeth (a character actor from “George Wallace” and “54”) is a good levelling force between the different nationalities, and Skaarsgard is absolutely chilling as Gregor, the “tech guy”. He blew me away in Good Will Hunting, and he blows me away here. Great work by all involved, except Sean Bean who was so good in Patriot Games and Goldeneye but is left to scowl and look tough in this. The film is strong, with echoes of 70’s and 80’s gritty actioners. The choice of an eclectic group of character actors over bona fide stars is a smart one, and Frankenheimer easily makes up for the fiasco that was “The Island of Dr. Moreau” a few years back.
It’s not for kids, they’ll get bored and it won’t make sense, but adults who like this kind of film will eat it up. Also, David Mamet (the king of writers with Glengarry Glen Ross, The Untouchables, The Edge, The Spanish Prisoner, House of Games in his credits) wrote the screenplay under a pseudonym so you can be assured there’ll be some gems of dialogue. A solid piece of work.
8.4 out of 10
Behind every great book adaptation is a forgettable first try. — By Ryan Covey