47 Ronin

This post’s topic will be 47 Ronin, starring Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada and Tadanobu Asano.

Let me start this off with a little back story, because I think it’s essential to understanding what’s wrong with this movie.

The tale of the 47 Ronin is actually a true story: in summary it tells the tale of 47 members of the entourage of an early 18th century Japanse lord. Their master was tricked into doing something dishonorable by a rival. As punishment he was forced to take his own life, his possesions were confiscated, his family ruined. His 47 samurai (now Ronin – meaning: leaderless) vowed to avenge their lord even though they were ordered that vengeance was forbidden. Eventually they succeeded in this undertaking and because people were so impressed by their actions they were allowed to commit suicide instead off being executed. They are actively honored to this day and their story is was one of the most popular themes in Japanese art, spawning plays, paintings, an opera and four earlier movie versions.

I haven’t seen the four earlier film adaptations of this story – they’re all japanese and i assume they’re available with english subtitles – but i’m willing to bet my life that they’re all superior to this one. And I know this, because there’s no way that at any time during the production proces of these films someone raised their hand and spoke the words: “You know what this movie needs? Keanu Reeves!”

To me there’s a crucial difference between Nicholas Cage and Keanu Reeves – both with their own list of shitty pictures. Cage will attach himself to any project it seems – it’s like you’re looking at his career choices and you think: “This man doesn’t need an agent – he needs an intervention”. At no point have I looked at Bangkok Dangerous, Next, Wicker Man, The Sorcerer’s Apprentice, Ghost Rider, Knowing or National Treasure and thought “This would’ve been a great movie if it hadn’t been for that bastard Cage”. Cage is a great actor who has trouble picking winners. Reeves is different: at best he has little or no impact on a movie – the most positive thing i can say about the best movies he’s been in is that he didn’t actively ruin them. I really can’t think of any decent film he’s been in that wouldn’t have been at least equally as good with another actor. There’s a dark side to Keanu though – because he can ruin a movie… oh, yes… That vacant expression, the surfer dude haircut that’s always there in spirit… In 47 Ronin he’s knee deep in his “Neo” persona: well meaning guy, little out of place, looking for a sense of purpose…

And much like with Matrix, I don’t give a rat’s ass about Keanu’s character here either. His role has no function whatsoever – the story doesn’t need him, which is hardly a surprise since his character was added for the movie. The original story has a perfectly reasonable explanation for every plot device that was introduced to explain his being there. So why is he there? Simple: because the movie needed a white guy. Sadly for them, Sanada (also in Last Samurai and Sunshine) and Asano (Battleship and Ichi the Killer) aren’t expected to carry movies outside of Japan, which is messed up because they’re great actors.

So they took a truly great and inspiring story and twisted and corrupted it to make it fit the western market. And what makes it even worse: they failed miserably. Financially, because it was a box-office bomb. And creatively because although it looks slick and flashy you never feel drawn in to the story.

I could be made to care about Oishi, the leader of the Ronin, (Sanada’s part) but the film doesn’t want me to – it wants me to care about Keanu and frankly, I couldn’t care less.

There are a lot of mediocre action movies out there (here’s looking at you, Jason Statham) but those movies are rarely really bad because they don’t try to be anything more then they really are. Statham (nor Jet Li or The Rock for that matter) never try to convince you that they’re filming Citizen Kane – they just offer popcorn and I enjoy popcorn a lot. But when you take a story like 47 Ronin and turn it into a movie, you’re doing something different. You’re not just offering popcorn then – you should be striving to do something better.

The makers of 47 Ronin didn’t just take a good idea and waste it. They took a good idea, raped it and left it bleeding in a ditch – and frankly: they should burn in hell.


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