Exciting Finale not Enough to Save Lumbering 47 Ronin
- Christian Hamaker Contributing Film and Culture Writer
- 2013 26 Dec
DVD Release Date: April 1, 2014
Theatrical Release Date: December 25, 2013
Rating:PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements
Run Time: 119 min.
Director: Carl Rinsch
Actors: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Ko Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi, Masayoshi Haneda, Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa
At the conclusion of 47 Ronin, just before the end credits roll, a narrator tells us that the story is an important one about Japanese honor and nobility that has been told for hundreds of years.
So why does Keanu Reeves have a leading role in the film?
Reeves, the star of the Matrix trilogy, has been mocked as a sub-par leading man in films that demand a certain degree of gravitas such as Little Buddha and A Walk in the Clouds. Why give him the central role of Kai, a "half-breed" fighter who might control the future of feudal Japan? Maybe the makers of 47 Ronin thought Reeves could pull off a performance that demands little dialogue (it’s made up mostly of moody stares and sword battles). More likely, they chose a star with a proven track record of drawing crowds in North America as well as internationally, while supplementing a mostly Asian cast.
Kai—left in the woods as an infant and raised by demons—joins a group of wandering, disgraced samurai seeking to regain their honor. Their ruler, Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), had been forced to commit suicide after an incident in which he was put under the spell of a witch (Rinko Kikuchi, Pacific Rim). Now led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada, Sunshine), the band of warriors wants to return to their previous status while protecting Lord Asano’s daughter (Ko Shibasaki) from the conniving Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano, Battleship).
Reeves isn’t a big problem here. The actor might not be the most natural actor to cast as Kai, but he doesn’t embarrass himself, nor does the movie, which is more often dull than outright bad or painful to watch. That’s a shame, because the film’s story is the stuff of legend, and it deserves to be brought to the screen with more visual panache than the rather routine widescreen imagery throughout most of 47 Ronin.
One's tolerance for the story of 47 Ronin will depend in part on one’s willingness to accept the portrayal of witchery and demonic activity in the story. Supernatural elements abound, and characters speak of finding each other in future lives (the film’s tagline is "seize eternity").
And though the film is remarkably free of foul language, 47 Ronin is steeped in dreary ideas about the "honor" of a "noble death," and it includes mythic, supernatural elements that could upset some viewers. Yet the worst part of 47 Ronin is how listless and unengaging the story is. The film plods along for two hours before delivering an exciting finale, but by then audiences will have written off the film.
47 Ronin isn’t the terrible misfire some reviews have indicated; it's just another costly film that's not good enough to recommend. Better to choose another option for your holiday moviegoing.
CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):
- Language/Profanity: None
- Drinking/Smoking: Some drinking
- Sex/Nudity: A seduction scene leads not to sex, but to a woman compelling a man to “find your envy and hatred” so she can then give him all he desires; kissing
- Violence/Crime: Horses are killed in battle; poison is offered a woman; the culture of Japan exalts the idea of “noble death,” which is central to the outcome of the story; Kai fights a beast in a ring and cuts of its head; gunfire; stabbings and men being run through with swords; people are shot with arrows; thumbs are cut for a blood oath; an explosion and image of a body being blown apart
- Religion/Morals/Marriage: Ancient Japan is said to have been a land of witches and demons; Kai is believed to have been raised by demons; a man says it’s believed that only demons have the power to see past a witch’s disguise; a woman shape-shifts into a fox and a dragon-like creature; men are shown under spells cast by witches and are said to be bewitched; Kai says he learned to fight from demons; a man suggests killing another man and then asking forgiveness for sending him to hell; discussion of finding a loved one in another life; talk of good omens
Questions? Comments? Contact the writer at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Publication date: December 26, 2013