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47 Ronin - DVD Review

47 Ronin

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

KEANU Reeves makes his return to blockbuster movie-making with 47 Ronin but anyone expecting another film to rival the genre-defining likes of Point Break, Speed or The Matrix had best think again.

This fantasy epic, inspired by one of Japan’s most enduring legends, is a mess of equally epic proportions and a big budget folly that should never have been indulged.

The tale of the 47 Ronin is part of Japanese folklore, chronicling a group of Samurai who, two years after seeing their master humiliated and forced to commit suicide and their own status removed, gain their revenge before promptly taking their own lives according to Japanese custom.

It’s a story of honour and redemption that is still celebrated with a festival every December.

First-time director Carl Rinsch’s movie seeks to embellish this legend with fantasy elements yet crucially neglects to include the required emotion.

Hence, Reeves enters the fray as a half-breed named Kai, there’s a witch to add a dose of the supernatural and a forbidden love interest to keep things spicy. Most, if not all, are lost amid the bombardment of special effects that ensue, which take a clear precedence over storytelling, character building or anything approaching moral complexity.

Rinsch is clearly seeking to emulate the success of past films, whether it’s Akira Kurosawa’s original Seven Samurai (famously remade as The Magnificent Seven), Tom Cruise’s The Last Samurai (by having a Westerner’s presence central to proceedings) or HBO’s Game of Thrones (in a nod to the fantasy element).

But 47 Ronin never comes close to the quality of any of those films and appears to be going through the motions for the most part. There are scenes that look spectacular but Rinsch struggles to deliver a notable set piece or even a character worth caring about.

Reeves feels particularly short-changed given that he’s the hero, often drifting along and sometimes being pushed to the sidelines. He is never allowed the time to explore the conflicting emotions of his character, or to build any serious heat for the love story.

But then even quality ensemble Japanese cast members such as Hiroyuki Sanada (last seen in The Wolverine) and Kou Shibasaki (of Battle Royaler fame) are given little to work with.

Such a shortcoming is particularly harshly felt given the tragedy underpinning the story, meaning that the conclusion badly underwhelms. But then, in truth, nothing about 47 Ronin really works, which should probably come as little surprise given the numerous reports of re-shoots and spiralling budget costs that bedevilled the production process.

Certificate: 12A
Running time: 119mins
UK Blu-ray & DVD Release: May 12, 2014