It’s been quite some time since we’ve seen Keanu Reeves in a Hollywood blockbuster; it’s been even longer since he’s been in a decent film. Reeves’ famously silent, wooden way of acting has always been strangely endearing, but in Carl Rinsch’s 47 Ronin, his presence is lacking as he quietly broods throughout the film, occasionally showing life during the well-executed sword fights but ultimately, and understandably, dragging his feet through an uninspired film.
47 Ronin is based on one of the most well-known ancient Japanese tales, disseminating the themes of honour, loyalty, and heroism throughout since the real life events in the early 1700’s. In the real story, two feudal lords – Asano and Kamei – are at odds with the Shogun’s corrupt chief, Lord Kira. Asano unsheathes his sword in the Edo Palace, bringing enough shame to force him into suicide by via ritual seppuku, leaving his samuri masterless – hence “ronin” – and thirsty for vengeance. The 47 (it was actually 46) ronin get their revenge at the cost of disgracing themselves in the eyes of the Shogun.
It is a famous tale which has been rebirthed numerous times, in various forms (here’s even a Hello Kitty version out there) that have mostly been received very well. Rinsch’s fantastical Western version dresses up the tale with great production and passable direction; but boring pacing, even worse acting, and a truly flat script. The film is mildly exciting, bringing CGI monsters and a shape-shifting witch into the fold – it very well could have been a great interpretation of the original story; instead we are given something which is average at best, and is likely to be one of the year’s biggest disappointments.
Kira (Tadanobu Asano) is a ridiculously stiff villain; the aforementioned witch (Rinko Kinkuchi) is an unbearable ‘Sailor Moon’ quality embodiment of evil; Asno’s daughter – Mika (Ko Shibasaki) is dull; and Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) – Asono’s chief samuri – is painful to watch despite offering the least offensive acting.
Reeves is inserted into the story through “main” protagonist Kai, a half-breed who is nothing more than a way for the Western audience to buy into the historical tale. I use the word “main” lightly because the focus is awkwardly balanced between Kai and Oishi, often leaving the films main draw card in the dust for the sake of a feeble attempt at authenticity.
If you aren’t asleep by the climatic ending – my favourite part of the film, but I am unsure whether it’s because the end was near, or because it was just very well done – you are admiring the set pieces and overall look of this production; something which will be the only reason this film is remembered; if it is at all.
Review Score: ONE AND A HALF STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Runtime: 127 minutes
47 Ronin is now screening through Universal Pictures Australia