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Movies & TV

25th Sep 2023

25 years ago today, we got the best car chase scene in cinema history

Rory Cashin

car chase

The car chase consists of seven exhausting minutes of edge-of-the-seat crashes, explosions, and near-misses.

Released in cinemas in September 1998, Ronin had all of the potential of being an action classic.

Directed by John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate, French Connection II), with a script co-written by David Mamet (The Untouchables, Glengarry Glen Ross). The incredibly stacked cast included Robert DeNiro, Jean Reno, Natascha McElhone, Stellan Skarsgård, Sean Bean, and Jonathan Pryce. Everything was pointing to a huge potential hit.

Instead, viewers at the time were a bit cool to the movie, as the $55 million production with just $70 million at the worldwide box office. The was mirrored by critics, who gave a good-but-not-great response of 70% on Rotten Tomatoes.

The modern response to the movie is very different, as the somewhat low-key plot – there is a suitcase and everyone wants the suitcase is about the extent of it – has been adopted by the action-first-plot-distant-second likes of John Wick and Mad Max Fury Road.

However, both then and now, what everyone can agree on is that the seven-minute centre-piece car chase, as the “good guys” and the “bad guys” drive at high speeds through the packed streets of Paris, is absolutely unforgettable. You can check out the car chase scene in full right here:

Over 300 stunt drivers were used for this car chase scene in Ronan.

Frankenheimer didn’t cheat at all with these scenes – the actors really were in those cars, usually driven by Formula One driver Jean-Pierre Jarier and high-performance drivers Jean-Claude Lagniez and Michel Neugarten at speeds of up to 100 mph. Additionally, there were no SFX or frame-rate adjustments. Everything was in-camera, everything was real.

This probably explains why DeNiro’s face looks to be in a constant state of fear throughout the car chase sequence.

For this scene in particular, the production purchased four BMW 535is and five Peugeot 406s, and one of each was cut in half and towed by a Mercedes-Benz 500 E, while the actors were inside what was left of them. Right-hand drive versions of the cars were also purchased, with a dummy steering wheel installed on the left side so the actors could pretend to drive, all while the stunt drivers drove the speeding vehicles for real.

It is a full four minutes before any kind of music kicks in during the scene, with everything up to that point scored only by the noises of the cars, as well as anything or anyone unfortunate enough to be in their path.

There were over 300 stunt drivers used for this car chase alone, most of them used in the on-coming traffic we see as McElhone and then DeNiro’s cars drive through the tunnel in the wrong direction.

The scene is yet to be bettered – although Paul Greengrass did try his best with the Bourne sequels – and to this day, the panic of watching that lorry lean over onto two wheels as it careens towards the drivers is one of the greatest gasp-inducing stunts of all time.

While there are some other great action scenes in Ronin, including an earlier car chase that actually involves a rocket launcher (!?), this still goes down in history as the greatest car chase in cinema history.

Ronin is available to rent on Apple TV, Google Play, Rakuten TV and the Sky Store right now in Ireland and the UK.

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