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.
Enigmatic and deliberate Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy makes no reservations while unraveling its heady spy story for better or worse. The film based on the bestselling novel by John Le Carre is purposefully perplexing effectively mirroring the central character George Smiley's (Gary Oldman) own mind-bending investigation of the British MI6's mole problem. But the slow burn pacing clinical shooting style and air of intrigue only go so far—Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy sports an incredible cast that can't dramatically translate the movie's impenetrable narrative. Almost from the get go the movie collapses under its own weight.
After a botched mission in Hungary that saw his colleague Jim (Mark Strong) gunned down in the streets Smiley and his boss Control (John Hurt) are released from the "Circus" (codename for England's Secret Intelligence Service). But soon after Smiley is brought back on board as an impartial observer tasked to uncover the possible infiltration of the organization. The former agent already dealing with the crippling of his own marriage attempts to sift through the history and current goings on of the Circus narrowing his hunt down to four colleagues: Percy aka "Tinker" (Toby Jones) Bill aka "Tailor" (Colin Firth) Roy aka "Soldier" (Ciaran Hinds) and Toy aka "Poor Man" (David Dencik). Working with Peter (Benedict Cumberbatch) a conflicted younger member of the service and Ricki (Tom Hardy) a rogue agent who has information of his own Smiley slowly uncovers the muddled truth—occasionally breaking in to his own work place and crossing his own friends to do so.
Describing Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy as dense doesn't seem complicated enough. The first hour of the monster mystery moves at a sloth's pace trickling out information like the tedious drips of a leaky faucet. The talent on display is undeniable but the characters Smiley included are so cold that a connection can never be made. TTSS sporadically jumps around from past to present timelines without any indication: a tactic that proves especially confusing when scenes play out in reoccurring locations. It's not until halfway through that the movie decides to kick into high gear Smiley's search for a culprit finally becoming clear enough to thrill. A film that takes its time is one thing but Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy does so without any edge or hook.
What the movie lacks in coherency it makes up for in style and thespian gravitas. Director Tomas Alfredson has assembled some of the finest British performers working today and they turn the script's inaccessible spy jargon into poetry. Firth stands out as the group's suave slimeball a departure from his usual nice guy roles. Hardy assures us he's the next big thing once again as the agency's resident moppet a lover who breaks down after a romantic fling uncovers horrifying truth. Oldman is given the most difficult task of the bunch turning the reserved contemplative Smiley into a real human. He half succeeds—his observational slant in the beginning feels like an extension of the movie's bigger problems but once gets going in the second half of the film he's quite a bit of fun.
Alfredson constructs Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy like a cinematic architect each frame dripping with perfectly kitschy '70s production design and camera angles that make the spine tingle. He creates paranoia through framing similar to the Coppola's terrifying The Conversation but unlike that film TTSS doesn't have the characters or story to match. The movie strives to withhold information and succeeds—too much so. Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy wants us to solve a mystery with George Smiley but it never clues us in to exactly why we should want to.
Top Story: Veteran Actor Cronyn Dies
Actor Hume Cronyn, best known for starring in films such as Lifeboat, The Postman Always Rings Twice and Cocoon, died Sunday after battling prostate cancer at the age of 91. He was married to the late Jessica Tandy, who died in 1994, and starring with her in many plays including The Gin Game and Foxfire. Cronyn was the winner of three Emmys, several Tonys and received a supporting actor Oscar nomination for The Seventh Cross (1945).
Harry Potter Books Vanish
Perhaps the anticipation is too much? Nearly 8,000 copies of the new Harry Potter book Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix were stolen from a warehouse in Northern England over the weekend, Reuters reports. Police said they were checking a white trailer truck found 20 miles from the warehouse for evidence. Authorities also cautioned any potential recipients of the stolen books not to touch them before the book is released on Saturday. "We want to warn members of the public that if they handle the book between now and Saturday in any way other than legitimately, they may face criminal charges," a spokeswoman told Reuters. Police estimate the haul was worth about around £130,500 ($220,000 in U.S. dollars).
Gilbert Iffy on SAG Re-Election
At a press conference Monday, Screen Actors Guild president Melissa Gilbert said she may not run again as the guild's leader, especially if the proposed merger between SAG and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists is voted down by members early next month. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Gilbert expressed confidence that the voting members will approve the controversial merger, which requires 60 percent approval. "Overwhelmingly I am hearing a positive response," she said.
Actress Beckinsale Engaged
British thesp Kate Beckinsale (Pearl Harbor) has become engaged to director Len Wiseman, who recently directed the actress in her upcoming movie Underworld, Reuters reports. On the syndicated show Access Hollywood, Wiseman said he popped the question on Saturday at the Viceroy Hotel in Santa Monica, Calif., and filled their hotel suite full of Beckinsale's favorite flower, lilies, to celebrate.
CSI Star Weds Longtime Girlfriend
William Peterson, known for his starring role in CBS' CSI: Crime Scene Investigation, married his longtime girlfriend, former schoolteacher Gina Cirrone, in a weekend ceremony in Italy, The Associated Press reports.
Maui Film Festival Fetes Hopkins
At the Maui Film Festival's closing ceremony Friday, Adrien Brody accepted the festival's Silversword Award on behalf of winner Anthony Hopkins, who was unable to attend, AP reports. The festival said the Silversword "honors a special film artist for their contributions to the art of filmmaking and their personal commitment to effect positive change in the world." Other festival award winners included director Rob Reiner, Kate Hudson, Luke Wilson and Geena Davis.
Role Call: Malkovich as Kubrick, Star Trek's Blalock Does Slow Burn
John Malkovich is set to star in the black comedy Color Me Kubrick. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the film is based on a true story about a man who conned his way into London's high life by pretending to be the late and reclusive director Stanley Kubrick during the time Kubrick was making his last film Eyes Wide Shut…Jolene Blalock of UPN's Enterprise is heading toward to the big screen to star opposite LL Cool J and Ray Liotta in Slow Burn. The story centers on a politically ambitious district attorney (Liotta) who enters a 24-hour showdown with a powerful gang leader only to find he is being manipulated by a beautiful assistant district attorney (Blalock) and an enigmatic stranger (LL Cool J).