The Sunday Star-Times (Auckland)
By LAMB Michael
1 non-Xena graphic
In a review of the movie Ronin, the reviewer makes a Xena analogy: "I read somewhere she's [actor Natascha McElhone] been compared to Audrey Hepburn, which in my book is a bit like comparing Xena Warrior Princess to Dharma. Soft, she ain't."
RONIN (M -- contains violence and offensive language) Starring Robert De Niro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgard, Sean Bean, Skipp Sudduth, Michael Lonsdale, Jonathan Pryce. Directed by John Frankenheimer. Reviewed by MICHAEL LAMB IT'S not often that Robert De Niro is, if one may use the expression, upstaged onscreen. But in this rambunctious international thriller set in France, he is forced to compete every frame of the way with the extraordinary rising star of Natascha McElhone. I'm not sure where they've been hiding McElhone (well, I am sure actually, The Truman Show, Mrs Dalloway and Surviving Picasso for starters), but given major screentime she quickly demonstrates she has X-factor in spades. High-cheekboned beauty is part of it, but she can also produce a face so hard it frightens the living daylights out of you. I read somewhere she's been compared to Audrey Hepburn, which in my book is a bit like comparing Xena Warrior Princess to Dharma. Soft, she ain't. As Deidre, she is the convenor of a panel of globetrotting hitmen, with the Ronin part a reference to the legend of leaderless Japanese samurai who would spend their lives as journeymen hired guns (all right, swords). Brought together for a bit of to-do on behalf of vague Irish interests (cue passing reference to the IRA), their target is a metal carrycase, which, in a kind of post-Hitchcockian vagary, we never know the contents of. Why would we need to? With the likes of Sean Bean and Jonathan Pryce circling each other in an atmosphere permeated with mutual distrust, once the Ronin have sorted out their pecking order it only remains for the sensational (and somehow old-fashioned) car chases through Paris and Nice to knock us back into our seats. A very European Stellan Skarsgard (Gregor) provides the sting in the tale, a final reminder in a film littered with them of how refreshing it is to relocate from the usual US and British epicentres of the action thriller genre. Fans of The Spanish Prisoner will be pleased that a certain David Mamet (credited as Richard Weisz) was given dialogue freshening duties, lending an insouciant air to go with the gaunt characterisations. So there we have it. A quirky, occasionally high-octane thriller let down by a lack of dimensionality in the plot department it may be, but Ronin will certainly be remembered (and returned to) for its stars. McElhone first, De Niro second.
Click here to return to the THIS WEEK IN XENA NEWS page.