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.
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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.
Based on Cornelia Funke’s best-selling children’s book Inkheart takes its literary inspirations literally. It revolves around a father Mortimer “Mo” Folchart (Brendan Fraser) and his 12-year-old daughter Meggie (Eliza Hope Bennett) who share a gift -- or curse -- of being able to make characters leap out of the pages just by reading aloud. Unfortunately whenever they do this a real person must then be transferred into the book as a replacement. It can get complicated especially when Mo accidentally sends his wife (Sienna Guillory) into a book called Inkheart only to bring out its villains to wreak havoc on the real world. He spends the next nine years trying to find another copy of the book and bring her back while one of the book’s main characters Dustfinger (Paul Bettany) follows Mo trying to get back into the book. An adventure waiting to happen! The entire cast is wonderfully in tune with the whimsical tone of this inventive and clever story. Fraser doesn’t stretch any acting muscles but serves the film well as its central father figure and hero. Bettany (Master and Commander) as the literary sidekick Dustfinger steals the whole show giving his character heaping amounts of irony warmth and humanity. Joining them is Helen Mirren who adds an element of elegance and uptightness as the great aunt swept along for the ride. Andy Serkis (LOTR’s Gollum) is properly villainous throughout while Brit Jim Broadbent (Iris) is daffy and hilarious as the author of Inkheart who keeps complicating matters for everyone. Inkheart uses sheer imaginative filmmaking prowess with an engaging story that feels as original and fresh as it does familiar. Director Iain Softley (Wings of the Dove) makes the most of the colorful European locations including the picturesque Italian Riviera transformed into storybook heaven. The film is well-paced carrying a great subtle message about the powers of reading and creative writing. Much like the Oscar-nominated The Reader -- a wildly different kind of movie to be sure -- this film shows the joys of getting lost and in this case found in the world of books.