The genesis of Universal's 47 Ronin is almost as tragic as the actual history that the movie is culling from. As the story goes, Universal saw the sprigs of talent sprouting from fresh faced director Carl Rinsch, whose previous experience was limited to just a couple of commercials and a nifty short film. The studio decided to ease the new director into feature filmmaking by cutting him what amounts to virtually a blank check, and giving him charge over a multi-national samurai fantasy epic. Almost impossibly, the film isn't a complete disaster. It's just a minor one.
47 Ronin follows the classic story of the titular team of warriors, a group of disgraced samurai who band together to seek revenge against a merciless warlord that betrayed and killed their master. But this isn't your grandfather's version of the story. 47 Ronin is an international affair, and it's covered with a veneer of Japanese mysticism and a thick coating of Hollywood lacquer, but east meets west rather uncomfortably, and it's mostly due to Keanu Reeves. Reeves' character is clearly crowbarred into the story that has no room for him, and it's plainly obvious where the seams of the story were stretched in order to patch him into the narrative. Reeves plays Kai, a half Japanese, half English orphan who is adopted by the samurai clan. His character serves no real purpose beyond being white, slicing things until they die, and playing the male lead of the most superfluous love story of the year. Rinsch simply can't make the inclusion of the character feel organic in any way, and "Kai" ends up feeling like a calculated studio move. It's a shame that the film spends so much time on Reeves when the real star is clearly Hiroyuki Sanada, who plays off the stoic samurai most believably among the rest of the cast.
It's also shame that with all the mysticism pumped into the story, there's no magic in the actual center of the film, the ronin themselves. The only personality trait a samurai is allowed to possess seems to be unerring stoicism, and between all 47 ronin, there are probably only three distinct samurai with any discernible character traits beyond an intense need to brood, and you'll probably only remember those three by the time the credits roll, only to promptly forget about them only a few hours later. Thankfully, Rinko Kikuchi's slinky and treacherous witch adds some much needed camp and personality to the mostly forgettable human characters.
And that's the issue with 47 Ronin. It's largely forgettable. When your film takes on a historical legend like the tale of the 47 ronin, a story that has been told and told again ad nauseum over the years, you really need to justify your own version. There are reels and reels of film dedicated to this story, and 47 Ronin doesn't manage to add anything significant to the canon. It promises to weld myth and history together, but does so clumsily, and while some of the action scenes are exciting, especially a particularly inspired set piece that involves the ronin noiselessly breaking into a heavily guarded fortress, the film is a bore when it's not clanking swords together.
The best player in the World for movie trailers, Hollywood interviews and movie clips.
47 Ronin is a film with many stories. As much as it is a tale about the revenge of four dozen masterless samurai, it's also the tale of an inexperienced filmmaker swallowed up by the enormity of blockbuster filmmaking. Most of all though, It's proof that you shouldn't cram Keanu Reeves into a movie that doesn't really need Keanu Reeves. What you're left with is a dull and bloated samurai epic that has its moments, but feels largely unnecessary.
When one thinks of Scandinavia, several images may spring to mind; ancient Vikings, quaint fishing villages, perplexing furniture megastores. Over the last few years however, a new element has arisen to, at least partially, define that most northern region of our planet: crime fiction. For some reason, perhaps it’s the solitude of being shut inside on long winter nights, countries like Norway, Sweden, and Denmark are churning out dark, gripping crime films.
Though some of these films make their way to the United States, the few that become even relatively popular are usually snatched up for American remake. The originals are often so revered, however, that those responsible for their creation will be given opportunities to cross over into making films in America. Case in point, this week sees the theatrical release of Dead Man Down, starring Noomi Rapace and directed by Niels Arden Oplev. Need a refresher course on these two? Want to delve into more outstanding Scandinavian crime films? Here are few we would highly recommend:
The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo
Probably the most well known of the Scandinavian crime films, and one that was largely responsible for the resurgence of this strange niche is Sweden’s The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. This bleak mystery follows a journalist and a hacker as they probe the years-prior disappearance of a young woman, uncovering many shadowy secrets about her family along the way. The thing that makes the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo so compelling is that the journey to the truth is every bit as drenched in shock and horror as is the final reveal. Noomi Rapace first played the cybergoth badass Lisbeth Salander in Niels Arden Oplev’s adaptation of Stieg Larsson’s wildly popular novel prior to Rooney Mara’s interpretation in the David Fincher remake. Dead Man Downtherefore represents a very intriguing reunion. The entire "Millennium Trilogy" is currently streaming on Netflix.
RELATED: Noomi Rapace Reveals She's Talking 'Prometheus 2' With Ridley Scott
Not only a standout of this particular genre, but quite possibly one of the best films of 2011, Norway’s Headhunters is a crowd-pleasing, spiraling crime farce. Based on a novel by Jo Nesbo, the film follows a corporate headhunter who uses his interviews to find new marks for his nightly activity: stealing valuable works of art. What’s fascinating about Headhunters is how much empathy we as an audience are willing to lend to, by all rights, a despicable human being. There is a natural sort of dark comedy in how completely in over his head Roger gets, and how he has to claw his way out. The film also boasts some tremendously snappy editing that keeps the tension brewing at all times. Headhunters is currently streaming on Netflix. Game of Thronesfans might recognize costar Nikolaj Coster-Waldau as the dastardly Jaime Lannister from the HBO series.
Like Headhunters, Norway’s Jackpot is also based on a novel by Jo Nesbo. It centers on a blue-collar schlub named Oscar who makes the mistake of making a large sports wager with some of his less reputable coworkers…the bigger mistake, as it turns out, was winning the bet. Like the art-stealing protagonist of Headhunters, all the criminals in Jackpot quickly realize they are operating beyond their capacity for underhandedness, allowing for the construction of a comedy of errors. The action sequences in Jackpotare surprisingly just as well crafted as is the humor, and the ever-shifting group dynamic is outlandishly entertaining. The playful chronology of the piece allows for the ending to appear less as a twist and more as the inevitable, but thoroughly satisfying conclusion.
RELATED: The 6 Best Gangster Movies You've Never Seen
Dutch crime comedy Plan C once again plays upon the theme of a hapless amoral protagonist who dabbles in full-scale criminality, but ultimately ends up biting off far more than he can chew. In Plan C, that antihero is a gambling-addicted police detective who hires two crooks to knock over an illegal casino. Though his motives are sympathetic enough, trying to pay off the Chinese mob threatening his family, it is really the two oddball thieves that carry the movie and, in some instances, prove more amiable than the detective. What Plan C does possibly better than any of the other movies on this list is point out the absurdity of the notion of a foolproof criminal scheme. The disastrous chain of events in the hotel room near the end is sterling evidence of the existence of Murphy’s Law in the underworld.
Just Another Love Story
Ole Bornedal’s Danish crime drama Just Another Love Story actually seems somewhat aware of its region’s own noir legacy. At one point, a character quips, “beautiful women and a mystery…isn’t that how all film noirs begin?” The film centers on a police photographer who inadvertently causes an automobile accident that sends a young woman into a coma. While checking on her, the woman’s family mistakes him for her boyfriend and he can’t bear to make their lives worse by admitting the truth, especially after she wakes with no memory. This movie is aptly named, as there is something enthrallingly romantic in our hero’s task. His sincere wish to restore the woman’s memory is heartbreaking, and he begins to become lost in the world he has constructed for her. As the truth of the woman’s story prior to the crash begin to surface, however, it’s clear that his good intentions will potentially doom him. Bornedal made his own leap to American films when he directed last year’s Jewish horror film The Possession.
[Photo Credit: Knut Koivisto/Yellow Bird Films]
From Our Partners:Kim Kardashians Best Bikini Moments (PHOTOS) Brooke Mueller Overdose? Rep Speaks About New Drama For Charlie Sheen’s Ex
Top Story: Liv Tyler's Newest Ring Is a Wedding Band
Liv Tyler, the daughter of Aerosmith frontman Steven Tyler, has added a new rocker to her life. The Associated Press reports Tyler wed longtime boyfriend Royston Langdon, lead singer and bassist of the band Spacehog, in a private ceremony at a villa in the Caribbean on March 25. Tyler's publicist said Wednesday the couple is planning a small reception for family and friends next month in New York. It is the first marriage for Tyler, 25, and the British-born Langdon, 30. The actress, who has starred in Armageddon, Inventing the Abbotts and That Thing You Do!, plays elf Arwen in Peter Jackson's epic The Lord of the Rings trilogy.
"War" Singer Edwin Starr Dies
Motown legend Edwin Starr, whose 1970 No. 1 Grammy-winning hit "War" denounced war as good for "absolutely nothing," died of a heart attack at his home in central England, Reuters reports. He was 61. "I am absolutely saddened and shaken up by his death. He was performing right until the end," his manager, Lilian Kyle, said Wednesday. Starr himself served in the U.S. army for three years before embarking on a career in music.
Bruckheimer and WB Ink Multimillion-Dollar Deal
Producer Jerry Bruckheimer has signed a four-year deal that will keep him at Warner Bros. TV through May 2007, Variety reports. Financial details of the complicated pact were not immediately available, but industry insiders said the deal guaranteed Bruckheimer and Bruckheimer Television at least $10 million over four years and covers drama, comedy and reality programming. Bruckheimer, who has managed to translate his big-screen success to primetime, produces the hit CBS shows CSI: Miami and Without a Trace.
MTV Reunites with Tom Green
MTV, which releases a new series nearly every three weeks, has greenlighted two new projects as part of their lengthy development slate, The Hollywood Reporter reports. Beginning June 16,Tom Green will return to the network in a late-night talk show that will invite viewers into his personal life. The second series, which will premiere in August, will feature married performers who were big during MTV's boy-band phase. Nick Lachey of the group 98 Degrees and singer Jessica Simpson will open their home to MTV's cameras to document their first year of marriage.
Linkin Park Debuts at No. 1 on Billboard
Linkin Park's Meteora crashed into the Billboard 200 at No.1, selling 810,000 copies in the U.S. for the week ending March 30, according to Nielsen SoundScan data issued on Wednesday. Despite being released in conjunction with the start of her much-hyped Las Vegas production, Celine Dion's One Heart came is second with 432,000 copies sold. Meteora also beat out debuts from Brian McKnight, the Diplomats and the 12th edition of the Now That's What I Call Music! compilation series, Reuters reports.
Radiohead Tracks Leaked Online
Tracks from Radiohead's upcoming album Hail to the Thief, which comes out June 10, have been leaked on to the Internet. Guitarist Jonny Greenwood said the versions constitute "work we've not finished, being released in this sloppy way, 10 weeks before the real version is even available. It doesn't even exist as a record yet." A source told Billboard.com that album producer Nigel Godrich reviewed the files that are circulating and confirmed they may date from as far back as the first day of mixing. In the past two days, EMI has sent cease-and-desist orders to a number of individuals who were hosting the files on their personal Web pages.
"Potter" Prevails Over "Grotter"
Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling won a court battle Thursday to block the Dutch publication of a Russian novel about a girl wizard called Tanya Grotter, Reuters reports. Grotter author Dmitry Yemets, who has sold more than 500,000 books in Russia, said his book, The Magic Double Bass, was a parody of the Potter novels and trusted his readers could tell the difference between the two. But the court said in a written ruling that the Russian book was an unauthorized adaptation of Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone and its publication in the Netherlands would infringe Rowling's copyright.
Role Call: Urban Joins "Pitch Black" Sequel, Cheadle Set for "Nixon"
Karl Urban, who plays Eomer in The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, has joined the cast of the Pitch Black sequel The Chronicles of Riddick, which stars Vin Diesel, Judi Dench and Colm Feore. The second installment, written and directed by David Twohy, finds Riddick, now a hunted man, in the middle of two opposing forces in a major crusade. The project begins June 9 in Vancouver ... Don Cheadle, meanwhile, is negotiating to star opposite Sean Penn in The Assassination of Richard Nixon for writer-director Niels Mueller. The film centers on the true story of a Philadelphia furniture salesman who hatches a plot to kill Richard Nixon.