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.
It’s been nearly a month since “Sacrifice,” the high-seas adventure/Dead Calm homage that saw the death of Fauxmanda. In addition to recappers like myself heaving a sigh of relief over the fact that we wouldn’t have to keep using the word Fauxmanda, it seemed like Revenge was finally back on track. The Ryan Brothers were dispatched, Conrad Grayson was once again clearly the villain, and Emily herself had a newfound laser focus on her revenge scheme. Or so we thought. “Retribution” decided to do what Revenge always seems to do when it doesn’t know how to proceed: muddy the narrative waters and add even more extraneous characters! We’re right back to square one.
The episode began with a deliberate echo of the way the series itself began: Emily narrating her Hammurabi platitudes over an image of rolling waves. Retribution, an eye for an eye, is all about restoring balance. Even if retribution risks perpetuating a cycle of violence, such an unending cycle is preferable to letting the guilty go free, and all that Old Testament stuff. Of course, she was especially gunning for blood after Amanda died in her arms. She herself said that she’d just lost “one of the only people I’ve ever loved,” which makes it all the more unfortunate that the show had been keen on turning Amanda into a rival/poseur/threat for so damn long. How deep did that love for her doppelganger (in name only) go? Emily was so affected, in fact, that she seemed to want to shoot Conrad Grayson then and there. I mean, this situation could not be more desperate: Amanda’s dead, Jack’s in the hospital, and Nolan is on the verge of giving over a WMD computer program to save his girlfriend’s father from losing another finger. What’s a revenge-meister to do?
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On top of all that, Helen Crowley’s replacement, Mr. Trask (who you eagle-eyed readers noted last time was Mr. Guppy on Andrew Davies’ version of Bleak House) had decided to snoop around about Fake Amanda. Conrad told him she was in possession of a laptop with evidence that could incriminate all of them. So when Emily was at the Stowaway picking up Jack’s clothes she discovered the Initiative agent doing a scan of the place himself, posing as a lawman. No man with such bug eyes, thin lips, and pasty complexion could be up to any good. Shame that was pretty much the last we saw of him in this episode.
At the coroner’s, Charlotte was brought in to identify the body of her “sister.” You’d think Jennifer Jason Leigh’s Kara, who rushed to her daughter’s hospital bed when she was flung off a balcony rail, would be there too, no? I guess Revenge’s writers realized her character was such a mistake that she’s totally banished, even when this is one time that her presence would make some logical sense. Emily showed up at the coroner’s herself and saw Victoria was there as Charlotte’s escort. By now Emily and her nemesis reiterate their contempt for one other each time they’re in each other’s presence by emphatically stating each other’s names: “Emily.” “Victoria.”
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Of all the Graysons, Daniel seemed to be the only one having a crisis of conscience over Amanda’s death. First things first, he wanted to rob the Initiative of their prize by getting Nolan to delete the Carrion program. “Control-Alt-Delete, got it,” Nolan said in response. The thing is…who should he trust? Daniel probably is right that he should delete it, but Padma’s father will die if the Iniative doesn’t get their cloak-and-dagger-holding hands on it. Then again, for what apocalyptic purpose will the Initiative use Carrion? Like any geek, Nolan should realize that, despite his love for Padma, the needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one. No wonder he now answers the phone with, “Nolan Ross, life’s pawn.”
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So Jack was totally devastated by Amanda’s death, as was to be expected. Not certain if he was as devastated by her death as he was by Sammy’s, but that was man’s best friend, so come on. His grief burned bright for a moment, then quickly turned to a chill. Suddenly, it seemed that he needed to scratch the revenge itch against the Graysons as well. He would finish what his wife had started, and the first step to do that would be to get into Conrad’s good graces. He’d accept the mogul’s generous offer of paying his medical bills and thank him with obsequious gratitude like “I don’t know if I can ever repay you.” Conrad saw Jack’s phoniness and raised him, even allowing baby Carl into Grayson Manor. The cherry on top of Conrad’s own charlatanism was the flag pin he now wears to advance his craven political ambitions.
NEXT: Emily eulogizes Amanda…meaning she’s eulogizing herself. We’ve really gone down the Persona/Mulholland Drive female-personalities-merging rabbit hole haven’t we?
Jack decided that he wanted Emily to give Amanda’s eulogy. Which meant basically that she would have to give her own eulogy to someone else. Yes, this is majorly effed up. While Conrad made his own statement about Amanda’s death to the media, Jack began the first part of his revenge scheme against him by cracking open his late wife’s laptop. He needed that intel to use against the Graysons. The only problem was that he has zero computer skills, was never able to log in, and thus was dead in the water — not to make a pun, since his wife literally was dead in the water. He’d have to loop in Nolan. In the meantime, though, he did discover files among Amanda’s effects that showed she and Emily went way back and were even juvie buddies at Allendale. Meaning that Emily probably knew about Amanda’s vendetta against the Graysons and did nothing to discourage her from it, even though she was in terrible danger. Jack was not happy. To Emily, he was even all like, “Aw, you were worried it would ruin your perfect reputation?” Um, your wife was in juvie too, buddy. But it was an interesting glimpse. If Jack is this mad at her for concealing her past, imagine how he’ll fly off the handle when he learns she’s really Amanda. When he finds out, will he totally lose it? Or will he be so besotted with the concept of Amanda, that he’ll immediately forget about Fauxmanda, even though she’s the mother of his child, and embrace his second chance with his childhood sweetheart? Nolan, for one, discouraged Emily from revealing herself to Jack at this moment. He thought it would be like Jack losing his wife twice: once in death, another in realizing that she wasn’t who she said she was.
So Emily eulogized herself. I half expected a distraught Jack to climb on top of his wife’s coffin and ride it into her grave like Leland Palmer on Twin Peaks, but he kept it together. Victoria had a quasi-nice moment with Emily, in which she said that she was actually glad David Clarke had died so he wouldn’t be around to witness his daughter’s death.
As for Nolan, he decided to turn over the Carrion program to Padma, so she could give it to the Initiative and rescue her father. But come now. Surely that wasn’t the “real” Carrion program he gave her? Methinks Nolan has an ace up his sleeve. Perhaps a device that will allow him to expose the Initiative’s entire computer network?
Emily was also looking to throw away some crucial tech. When Aidan presented her with the revenge computer, she threw it into the sea. Sure, it had evidence on there to send Conrad and Victoria to prison, but then again she said, “My plan never had anything to do with going to prison.” Um, so what is your plan? A season and a half into this show, you can at least give us an idea of your goal right? I mean, as murky as Lost was, at least we always had a goal in mind: leaving the island. What could possibly by Emily’s endgame at this point?
So, hopefully brainstorming that endgame, Emily visited Amanda’s grave. Standing behind her was another mourner who said he couldn’t believe she was gone, that the Amanda he knew was a force of nature, that she burned his house down. Mason Treadwell? No. An African-American guy who called himself Amanda’s brother. Oh, right, foster brother! Because Charlotte’s Google search into Amanda’s past, which revealed her sister’s foster family, had to be setting up something. A shame that it’s a new character we’ve never seen before, in whom we have no investment, who will likely just be another red herring. Except that, since he knew the real Amanda at a slightly older age, he may be among the few who could actually expose Emily now. From the preview of next week’s ep, that sure seems to be the case.
Anyway, folks, do you think I’m being too hard on our favorite primetime sudser? Do you think Revenge has found its way back on track? Or was Emily right when she quoted Roger Moore and said "before setting out on revenge you first dig two graves”? Is one of those graves for this show itself?
Follow Christian Blauvelt on Twitter @Ctblauvelt
[Photo Credit: ABC]
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