Mission: Impossible vs. Ronin

There’s nothing quite like +200 HP Audis muscling through tight French alleys to get your testosterone flowing.

While anticipating this fall’s Ronin, it’s very easy to see the similarity to Mission: Impossible. Fortunately, I was very relieved to find that the two were also very different.

The Similarities

  1. A team of elite operatives, each specializing in certain areas of expertise, be it weapons, transportation, communications, etc. ? Exotic European setting, complete with car chase scenes and explosions.
  2. Plot twists and a convoluted story.
  3. Jean Reno (he played in both; bad guy in Mission, good guy in Ronin).

The Differences

  1. Character development.
  2. Intrigue under the veneer.
  3. Resolution without tying too many loose ends.

Don’t get me wrong. I loved Mission Impossible. I thought, for a big-budget action movie, it had more than enough story and development to keep me duly satisfied. It was directed by Brian De Palma, who also did the unexciting Snake Eyes. Still, I think he was dealt a pretty hard blow by most critics who wrote that one off. Everybody whined about the plot convolutions and cinematic devices.

Awww, grow up! If you thought you were going to see an Oscar-winner, forget going to summer movies. With the dawn of summer comes the understanding that your average movie gets dumber. So with that in mind, I was actually pleasantly surprised that I had to participate that much with Mission in order to follow. That, I like.

And if the commonly cerebral fall line-up of movies holds true, then I think that Ronin fits the bill nicely. It’s the more mature, balanced version of Mission.

Ronin did all that its predecessor accomplished, yet without all the pyrotechnics, save an extravagant car chase scene. Incidentally, the film was shot masterfully by French cinematographer Robert Fraisse, whose work include a bunch of, well, French stuff and the American Seven Years in Tibet.

Ronin was directed by John Frankenheimer, who most notably brought us The Manchurian Candidate, the bold shocker of the 60s. While very different stories, you can definitely see his painter’s stroke at work here. There’s the air of government intrigue and power espionage. Also by Frankenheimer, and equally displaying his talent, is the eerie Seconds which is due to be remade later next year.

There’s one thing that’s perhaps the most definable characteristic of Ronin that makes it a slightly better movie than Mission: there’s a lot left to the imagination. There’s limited information, even after everything there is to know is revealed. We never get to find out what’s in the case. We never really get to know who these men are, especially DeNiro’s character.

Herein lies the personification. The case isn’t just the object of everybody’s murderous greed. It’s really a symbol of the people in the film. DeNiro’s character in particular reflected the mystique of “the case.” He’s ex-CIA… or is he? He can be trusted… or can he? Throughout the movie, the other characters are constantly trying to figure him out.

Sam: “If there aren’t any doubts, there is always doubt. That’s the first thing they teach you.”
Vincent: “Who taught you that?”
Sam: “I don’t remember. That’s the second thing they teach you.”

Hitchcock called this film device, the object of a thriller’s pace and mystique, a “McGuffin.” Roger Ebert probably said it best that inside the case was most likely the suitcase from Pulp Fiction, which got me to thinking. For movies that dealt with obtaining, stealing, or selling particular items of luggage, I was reminded of a couple of other films (all of which are pretty good flicks):

  1. Pulp Fiction – the strange escapades of Samuel Jackson and John Travolta with their mysterious suitcase.
  2. Sneakers – the “ultimate code-breaker” little black box that every government, agency, and operative killed to get their hands on. Lot’s of government intrigue and spy-vs.-spy.
  3. Se7en – “What’s in the (expletive) box?!” Not a covert agent movie, but nevertheless I couldn’t help think of this quote during Ronin as DeNiro is basically asking the same thing in a couple different scenes.

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