I’m glad I didn’t live in Feudal Japan, what with the all the monsters and never being allowed to smile. You see, back then men had to hold their emotions in to the point they made Anthony Hopkins in The Remains Of The Day look positively expressive in comparison. Woman meanwhile had to spend half their lives pining over men and the other half crying about men (unless they were a witch, and then they’d be allowed to spend 100% of their time being evil). Oh and even back then Keanu Reeves couldn’t act.
Or at least that’s the impression I got from 47 Ronin.
The film got roundly thrashed by the critics on its cinema release, with many suggesting its $38 million US gross versus the $175 million budget made it the biggest flop ever. It actually made over $100 million in the rest of the world (thanks to strong Asian releases), so it’s certainly not the biggest flop, but it was far from a hit.
However while cinema reviews would have you believe this is utterly worthless, it’s not actually that dreadful – it’s just not as good as it might have been.
Reeves play Kai, a ‘half-breed’ who has never been fully accepted by those around him – despite his impressive fighting skills. Due to the scheming of Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano) and a witch, Kai’s master is forced by the Shogun to either kill himself or be executed, with all the court’s Samurai having to leave and become Ronin – Samurai without a master.
A year on from that Kai teams up with the other former Samurai to plot revenge against Kira and destroy him – and battle supernatural forces at the same time.
The film has a couple of major issues. The first is that like many other directors who’ve only just come over from the world of commercials, Carl Rinsch knows how to make a film look incredibly pretty, but his storytelling skills are still a work in progress. That’s certainly not helped by the movie’s other main issue, which is that it never quite finds its own feet. It wants to be a bit Hollywood, a bit Japanese, a bit Kurowsawa, a bit Michael Bay – but in doing that it all feels a little loose and indecisive.
And it takes itself so seriously! You can tell why it goes in this direction, as it both wants to follow the rather po-faced ritualistic side of the legends it’s based on (this is certainly not the first film to make Samurai seem endlessly glum) and I also can’t help but wonder if Rinsch was hoping for a little of the portentousness that worked so well in Lord Of The Rings but here feels slightly misplaced.
Fortunately though, just as a slice of rather self-serious action it could have been a lot worse. After reading earlier reviews I was almost dreading having to sit through it, but it wasn’t that bad. In fact if it could have had a tiny bit of a sense of humour it could have been really good. I certainly wasn’t sorry I’d watched it, even if it’s unlikely I’ll be searching it out to watch again.
And some people might want to switch the film off about 10 minutes before the end, as while it is true to the legends and fits with the Japanese honour code, it’s the sort of downer that a lot of people won’t like.
Overall Verdict: Not half as bad as you might have been led to believe, but not that great either. With a little less glumness and someone who could genuinely act in the lead 47 Ronin might have been good, but as it is, it’s a bit confused and less than the sum of its parts.
Reviewer: Tim Isaac