47 Ronin Movie Review: A Film As Confused About Its Identity As The Main Character
47 Ronin is a sight to behold. Blending samurai swords, sorcery, and well choreographed action scenes with breathtaking locales enhanced by decent computer generated imagery, the film is beautiful to look at. Unfortunately, the one note characters, horrendous dialogue and uninspired performances make most of the film very painful to watch.
Inspired (loosely, as I don’t believe there was a supernatural conspiracy afoot) by the Japanese legend about a band of samurai who avenged their master after his death, 47 Ronin stars Keanu Reeves as Kai (the most Caucasian looking half Japanese man alive), an orphan found under mysterious circumstances and raised by a feudal lord. Possessing (because, why wouldn’t he?) exceptional fighting prowess, Kai joins the samurai led by Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada) in their quest for revenge against Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano).
There’s a lot to like about the concept of 47 Ronin. It’s a story that has endured since the 18th century and its themes: loyalty, honor, love, and bravery, are timeless. This film, however, executes those concepts with all the enthusiasm of a patient sitting in a dentist’s waiting room.
At the center of it all is Keanu Reeves. Saying that his performances can be muted, to say the least, is nothing new. Every criticism you’ve ever heard about his acting can be fairly leveled towards his acting in this movie. There’s nothing about his performance here that gives you any reason to care about or his character other than him being the top billed “star”. Any goodwill or investment you begin to have towards the film stops whenever he’s on screen.
This forms an interesting juxtaposition of bad acting with Rinko Kikuchi (Pacific Rim), who portrays Mizuki, a witch in service of the Lord Kira. As if to compensate for Reeves’ extremely downplayed emotions, Kikuchi dials up her character to the maximum. She chews every bit of scenery with the fervor of a death row inmate dining on their last meal. To her credit though, she’s so over the top and ridiculous that watching her ends up being a lot of fun.
Standing out for good reason is the aforementioned Hiroyuki Sanada in his portrayal of Oishi, leader of the 47 ronin. He plays his character with a restrained passion that makes him captivating to watch, and I found myself repeatedly wishing that the script had been rewritten to make him the main character due to the energy and purpose that infuses the story when he’s around. He may not be top billed, but he’s certainly the MVP of the film, and its true star.
Honorable mention goes to Takato Yonemoto as ronin warrior Basho. He takes a role that could have easily been nothing more than comic relief and gives it a humanity that is rare in this film. You’ll find yourself enjoying his screen time and rooting for him. Had he been the plucky sidekick to Sanada’s main character, 47 Ronin (and the audience) would have been a lot better off.
In the end, 47 Ronin seems like a movie that doesn’t quite know what it wants to be. An historical epic? A fantasy film? A fusion of the two? This hurts the movie overall, especially when paired with the acting and script problems that are noticeable throughout. Somewhere within its basic framework there’s a good film, but without the right people or words fleshing it out, it falls extremely flat.
• Skip It
• Wait For Cable
• Rent It
• See It
• See It… Twice