' ' Cinema Romantico: Shout-Out to the Extra: Ronin Version

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Shout-Out to the Extra: Ronin Version

Shout-Out to the Extra is a sporadic series in which Cinema Romantico shouts out the extras, the background actors, the bit part players, the almost out of your sight line performers who expertly round out our movies with epic blink & you’ll miss it care.

The third and final car chase featured in John Frankenheimer’s “Ronin” is a ferocious affair in which the pursued and the pursuant zoom through the streets of Paris before eventually speeding against traffic. Frankenheimer toggles between close-ups of the characters’ reactions, point-of-view shots looking through the car windows at incoming traffic, and exterior shots of the cars’ evasive tactics and deft maneuvers. But Frankenheimer does not strictly limit this scene to the two cars in question. No, after the pursed and the pursuant have moved on, Frankenheimer frequently lingers over the damage left in their wake, cars crashing into each other, fireballs kicking up, even a car-carrying trailer getting slammed into and having one of its automobile hauls fly off the truck’s headrack and crash to the ground. There is, in other words, a world outside of “Ronin”, one not really explored, because it shouldn’t be, but glimpsed, felt.

It is also glimpsed in the beginning when most of the movie’s band of professional mercenaries first meet up in a Parisian bistro. Larry is already there, drinking and smoking, and Dierdre, the ringleader, arrives and then masquerades as a bartender, pouring an adult beverage for Vincent, who arrives not long after her. Sam arrives last, evoking his m.o. And so they all stand there, acting like they aren’t who they are, refraining from getting right down to the gritty-gritty because Frankenheimer has purposely placed a few patrons in the bistro that the Ronin are waiting on to clear out. A patron like this one…

If I had hundred and twenty-five thousand preeminent takeaways from my first trip to Paris last year, perhaps the pre-preeminent takeaway, aside from cheese, was café culture. Reader, I cherished café culture. Sitting at a café, sipping at my libation of choice, watching the world go by, letting time, worthless time, slip away, made my heart full. Nowhere, not even the movie theater, have I ever found a place that so impeccably matches my everyday air as every Parisian café I visited. The first time I sat at one, even though I did not necessarily know exactly where I was within the city’s geography, I felt right at home. Then again, I was on vacation. It is easy to bask when you are on holiday. I assume if I lived in Paris that I would not always bask in a café; sometimes, no doubt, I would lament. And that is why I love this extra so much. She could have just sat there, doing nothing more than clocking the hourly rate for a French extra. But she didn’t. She acted. She made a conscious choice to play this nameless patron a certain way. She lamented.

What’s more, in this particular frame, both she and Jean Reno’s Vincent seem to be lamenting, each of their gazes fixed downward in that way you do when some sort of existential question has left you  searching your soul for a doubtlessly non-existent answer. If extras are so often meant merely as, shall we say, bodily filler, existing simply to occupy space, forgotten even as they stand (sit) in plain sight, in this shot, the extra and the character rest, for one beautiful instant, on the same plain. In “Ronin”, may the movie gods bless it, everyone, line of dialogue or not, has something to lament.

Pour one out for the extra.

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