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"47 RONIN"
(2013) (Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada) (PG-13)


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QUICK TAKE:
Action: 47 leaderless samurai vow to get revenge on the treacherous warlord who caused their master's death.
PLOT:
In feudal Japan, Kai (KEANU REEVES) is what's commonly called a half-breed. The offspring of a British sailor and Japanese peasant, he was abandoned by his mother and then raised and taught by demons. Not wanting to be like them, he fled at the age of 13 only to be discovered by Lord Asano (MIN TANAKA) of the Ako province. He grew up alongside that lord's daughter, Mika (KO SHIBASAKI), but his half-breed status has prevented anything coming of their love, which also holds true for him ever becoming someone like Oishi (HIROYUKI SANADA), Lord Asano's top-ranking samurai. Unbeknownst to him, Kai has been teaching his 16-year-old son, Chikara (JIN AKANISHI), how to fight.

Lord Asano's rival from the Nagato province, Lord Kira (TADANOBU ASANO), has other plans for all of them. Conspiring with the shape-shifting Witch (RINKO KIKUCHI), he's going to undermine Asano during a visit by their supreme leader, Shogun Tsunayoshi (CARY-HIROYUKI TAGAWA). That results in Asano doing the only honorable thing of taking his own life, thus leaving Oishi and his other samurai as outcasts known as ronin. With the Shogun declaring that Mika can have one year of mourning before marrying Lord Kira, the other former samurai and Kai are banished from the land, all while Oishi is imprisoned for a year.

Now out, and despite being forbidden by the Shogun to avenge his master's death, Oishi decides to do just that, recruiting Kai and then reassembling his fellow ronin to defeat Lord Kira and return honor to their dead leader.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Our reviewing policy for films that aren't shown in advance to critics is that we'll only provide a paragraph or two about the film's artistic merits or, more accurately, lack thereof.

Hollywood has a long history of placing white performers as the lead characters in otherwise ethnic-based tales, presumably to make such films appealing or palatable to white moviegoers. One need only look at offerings such as "Glory" (Matthew Broderick playing the protagonist in a tale about black Civil War soldiers) and "The Last Samurai" (with Tom Cruise as an American officer in a story about Japanese samurai) for proof of that.

That latter film clearly came to mind upon seeing the trailers and other promotional material for "47 Ronin." As a Japanese story, it's reportedly the most famous example of the samurai code of honor and has become a national legend. Why oh why then is Keanu the lead? Well, he kind of, sort of isn't, as he's actually playing something a supporting character to Hiroyuki Sanada as the real protagonist (who recruits Reeves' character to avenge their master's dishonorable death). Call it what you will, but those expecting a lot of the guy who played Ted (of "Bill and Ted"), Johnny "Point Break" Utah, Jack "Speed" Traven or Thomas "Neo of the Matrix" Anderson might be a tad disappointed to see him not directing the overall plot thrust.

Granted, he's in most of the action and battle scenes (sporting a performance and voice coming off and sounding like, well, Keanu), and those expecting lots of samurai action mixed with state of the art special effects (reportedly to the tune of at least $175 million) might just enjoy the offering, at least in terms of visual razzle-dazzle. The money's definitely up there on the screen.

Yet, one only wishes some of that cash had gone to help scribes Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini deliver a better script, or director Carl Erik Rinsch a more engaging overall effort. Simply put, for a movie about disgraced samurai (the titular ronin) reassembling to take down the villain, this is a fairly boring and far too long (2+ hours) slog to sit through, especially since nothing new is served up. "47 Ronin" rates as a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed December 24, 2013 / Posted December 25, 2013


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