Review: 47 Ronin / Cert: 12A / Director: Carl Rinsch / Screenplay: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini, Walter Hamada / Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Kô Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka, Rinko Kikuchi / Release Date: Out Now
The vultures have been circling 47 Ronin for quite some time. Multiple delays in the film's release, as well as rumours of a budget escalating north of $225 million led to the production being labelled as "troubled" long before tales of reshoots and the exclusion of the director from the editing suite by the studio came to light. A recent investor warning that the film could lose up to $150 million appeared to be the final nail in the coffin, dooming 47 Ronin to join John Carter (previously of Mars) and The Lone Ranger in the annals of film as movies destined to be flops before they were even released. However, news of 47 Ronin's (critical) death may have been greatly exaggerated.
The film tells the respected historical story of 47 samurai in the service of Lord Asano of Ako, who were instantly branded masterless ronin and banished from their lands after their lord invited dishonour on his house.
Keanu Reeves plays Kai, a Japanese "half-breed", found by lord Asano on a hunting trip when a child. Exhausted, marked by scars and immediately looked down upon by members of Asano's house, Kai nonetheless grows to become a valuable, if barely tolerated, part of the lord's household.
Upon a visit to his house by the Shogun and other lords, a witch, in service to Asano's rival Lord Kira, enchants first Asano's champion in a tournament and then the lord himself in order to dishonour him and have his lands granted to Lord Kira. The title of the film gives away the fact that that she succeeds, as the house is disbanded and the shogun prohibits the now ronin from seeking any revenge on the new master of their lands, while Kai is sold into slavery.
A year later the ronin regroup to seek revenge, knowing that to do so dooms them in the eyes of the law, but first they need to seek out Kai, who has some experience dealing with demons.
The film takes its time getting to this point in the story and this may work against it with audiences. 47 Ronin is definitely not the western-style action film it may appear to be in the trailers. While most of the backstory could have been told in a more efficient fashion, the film is aiming squarely for historical epic territory and hits its mark pretty well. The physical sets and costumes are sumptuous and the overall look of the film is only let down by some weirdly hazy GCI landscapes that work against the sense of realism provided by the closer shots.
The supernatural CGI elements fare much better, despite being somewhat muted in their handling. The hunting of a mythical beast at the start of the film and a confrontation with magical Tengu creatures are enjoyable but lack any real dazzle. In a climactic battle sequence Kai slices a concrete column in two with his enchanted sword, but this moment is barely acknowledged. The film could have benefited from a few more moments like this.
Keanu acquits himself well , as do the other actors. Hiroyuki Sanada (Shingen in The Wolvervine) delivers a stoic performance, and a select few of the 47 come to the forefront of the story. Tadanobu Asano (Hogun from Thor) provides a master class in sneering as Lord Kira, and Rinko Kikuchi gets a hell of a lot more to do than she did in Pacific Rim, playing Kira's witch. As Kai's love interest Kô Shibasaki comes off a bit weak as Mika but this is probably due to the social mores of the time portrayed rather than any issues with the actress or script. This element of the story was never going to go anywhere anyway, as those familiar with the tale will know. Even with the fantastical trappings, 47 Ronin sticks very close to the true story.
Don't believe the anti-hype, 47 Ronin is by no means a disaster. Yes, it does demand some patience from its audience but those who persevere will be rewarded with a strong tale, well told.
Expected Rating: 4 out of 10