By Michael Sauter
Updated March 05, 1999 at 05:00 AM EST

Revitalizing the art of the car chase, director John Frankenheimer (The Manchurian Candidate) stages several bracing sequences that warrant a second viewing, if only to appreciate how much is achieved without special effects. But it’s not just the crack stunt driving that makes Ronin such a welcome throwback; it’s also the existential hardness of this thriller’s motley band of mercenaries, hired by an icy Irish terrorist (Natascha McElhone) to steal a mysterious case. Though nobody’s a hero, it’s easy to root for De Niro’s smart-mouthed ex-CIA operative. Cool, cynical, and stoically noble, he makes most recent action-movie figures look like callow jocks. B+