Ronin is a 1998 crime-thriller film directed by John Frankenheimer and written by J.D. Zeik and David Mamet. Starring Robert De Niro and Jean Reno as two of several former special forces that team up to steal a mysterious, heavily guarded suitcase the contents of which is never revealed and as we know from SS, the film is known for its car chases through Nice and Paris.
Ronin is known for two car chases the final chase is through the streets and tunnels of Paris, and according to the DVD commentary used 300 stunt drivers. If anyone has the credentials to put together a car chase in Hollywood it is Frankenheimer ever since his 1966 film Grand Prix, he has been an amateur racing driver. Much to his credit, though Frankenheimer was aware of the new digital technology and special effects that have evolved over the years, all the scenes in Ronin are live for total authenticity. Moreover, many of the shots have the actual actors in the cars. Apparently, Skipp Sudduth virtually all of his own driving, but crashes were performed by professionals.
Ronin’s cars are on the virtual “A” list of automobiles. Ronin has three vehicles in Car magazine’s Top 40 Coolest Movie Cars: a BMW 535i (No. 29), a Citroën Xantia and XM (No. 24) and an Audi S8 D2 (No. 9). Other fine vehicles that are used include a Peugeot 406, three Peugeot 605s and a Mercedes-Benz 450SEL 6.9, a very rare Mercedes-Benz W116 variant with a high-powered engine, as noted by Frankenheimer in the DVD.
So let’s take a look at the two major car chase scenes from Ronin:
Bullitt is a 1968 American dramatic thriller film directed by Peter Yates and starred Steve McQueen, Robert Vaughn, Robert Duval and Jacqueline Bisset. The film was a critical and box office hit eventually winning the Academy Award for Best Film Editing by Frank P. Keller. Bullitt is most known for its car chase scene through the streets of San Francisco, regarded as probably the most influential car chase sequences in movie history.
The chase scene is so well respected that in 2008, the Ford produced the Mustang Bullitt model for the 40th anniversary of the film. A car manufacturer produced a make and model of a car that appeared in a 40-year-old movie. If that does not resonate power, I don’t know what does. The Bullitt nameplate on the steering wheel honored the movie that made the Mustang one of the most popular cars of the 1960s and 1970s and the specific green color was brought back for the anniversary edition.
Bullitt burning rubber in the car chase scene.
At the time of the film’s release, the car chase scene raised many eyebrows. Emanuel Levy wrote in 2003 that, “Bullitt contains one of the most exciting car chases in film history, a sequence that revolutionized Hollywood’s standards.” In his obituary for Peter Yates, Bruce Weber wrote “Mr. Yates’ reputation probably rests most securely on “Bullitt” (1968), his first American film — and indeed, on one particular scene, an extended car chase that instantly became a classic.”
The total time of the chase scene is almost 11 minutes. It begins in the Fisherman’s Wharf area, followed by Midtown shooting on Hyde Street and Laguna Street, with shots of Coit Tower and locations around and on Filbert and University Streets. The scene ends at the Guadalupe Canyon Parkway in Brisbane, out of the city.
Two 1968 390 V8 Ford Mustang Fastbacks (325 hp) with four-speed manual transmissions were used for the famed scene, both owned by the Ford Motor Company and part of a promotional loan agreement with Warner Bros. The Mustangs’ engines, brakes and suspensions were heavily modified for the chase by veteran car racer Max Balchowsky. The director called for speeds of about 75–80 miles per hour, but the cars (including the ones containing the cameras) reached speeds of over 110 miles per hour (180 km/h) on surface streets. Driver’s point-of-view angles were used to give the audience the look and “feel” of the ride as the cars jumped through the hills. Filming the chase scene took three weeks, resulting in 9 minutes and 42 seconds of film.
During this film sequence, two Dodge Charger’s lost five wheel covers and has different ones missing in different shots. As a result of shooting from multiple angles simultaneously, and some angles’ footage used at different times to give the illusion of different streets. The San Francisco authorities did not let the filmmakers film the car chase on the Golden Gate Bridge, but they did permit the passage to be filmed in Midtown locations including the Mission District, and in neighboring Brisbane, on the city’s outskirts.
McQueen, an accomplished driver himself, drove in the close-up scenes, about 10% of the chase in the film. Of the two Mustangs, one was scrapped after filming due to liability concerns and the surviving backup car was sold to an employee of Warner Brothers’. According to legend, the Mustang changed hands several times, and Steve McQueen at one point made an unsuccessful attempt to buy it. The Mustang is rumored to have been kept in a barn in the Ohio River Valley by an unknown owner.
Much of the success of the chase sequence is credited to the work of the editor, Frank P. Keller—who took home an Academy Award for his efforts. The film has garnered both critical acclaim and box office success. Produced on a $5.5 million budget, it grossed over $42.3 million in the United States, making it the 5th highest grossing film of 1968.
In 2011, Time magazine listed it among the “The 15 Greatest Movie Car Chases of All Time”, describing it as “the one, the first, the granddaddy, the chase on the top of almost every list.” Steve McQueen’s Mustang places number 2 (behind James Bond’s Aston Martin in Goldfinger) in Car magazine’s top 40 list.
Let’s take a look and see what all the hubbub is about:
To compare the chase scenes between Ronin and Bullitt is like saying you like a Porsche over a Ferrari; that is, objectively they are neck and neck and the winner is chosen by one’s personal preference. Personally, I think Bullitt edges out Ronin only because the chase is the de facto standard against which all other car chases judged.