Lawrence O'Donnell's career in politics at various times flourished onscreen, in the real world and in fiction. On TV, was best known as the host of news and commentary show "The Last Word with Lawren...
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.
The decision to air a special West Wing episode tonight dealing with a terrorist attack represents, in the words of today's Boston Globe, "a major test of the public's willingness to embrace artistic, fictionalized responses to a very real national trauma."
The newspaper quoted former West Wing writer/producer Lawrence O'Donnell Jr., whose father was a key figure in the Kennedy White House, as saying, "Doing a drama that is set in the place where now a war on terror is being managed and launched, it just would have been impossible to go into the third season without some reference to what life in the real West Wing is like now. ... Up to now, The West Wing has been able to preserve its parallel-universe status. But this event is just too large to ignore."
On the other hand, University of Texas communications professor Roderick Hart told the Globe: "It is dangerous. It could certainly backfire. There's just so much tragedy associated with this, and it's a living, ongoing tragedy to the American people."
In today's New York Post, politically conservative TV writer Adam Buckman wondered whether "the liberal powers-that-be behind the series ... will use their primetime pulpit to offer a Bartlet plan for combating terrorism that will fly in the face of the tactics being adopted by the real-life Bush administration."
The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the episode will begin with Martin Sheen and fellow cast members directly addressing the audience about the content of the episode, titled "Isaac and Ishmael." Details of the plot were not disclosed, but NBC Entertainment President Jeff Zucker told AP that it would not refer specifically to the WTC and Pentagon attacks.
Television debut as producer of "A Case of Deadly Force"
Host of MSNBC's "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell"
Lawrence O'Donnell's career in politics at various times flourished onscreen, in the real world and in fiction. On TV, was best known as the host of news and commentary show "The Last Word with Lawrence O'Donnell" (MSNBC 2010- ), while he was also seen as a guest host and commentator on "Countdown" (MSNBC 2003-2011), "The McLaughlin Group" (syndicated 1982- ) and "Morning Joe" (MSNBC 2007- ). He also worked as a writer, producer and sometimes actor in television, most famously as a writer and producer on the hit political drama "The West Wing" (NBC 1999-2006), in which he also appeared in flashbacks as President Jed Bartlet's father. Prior to working in television, the Boston-born, Harvard-attending O'Donnell was a writer who also worked as an attorney and a Congressional aide in Washington D.C. His first book, a true-crime tale of a racially-motivated 1975 incident involving the Boston police department called Deadly Force was adapted into the television movie "A Case of Deadly Force" (1986); O'Donnell co-produced the film, giving him his first taste of the world of television. Along with his various other careers, O'Donnell worked frequently as an actor. He played a lawyer in the polygamy drama "Big Love" (HBO 2006-2011), a judge in the detective comedy-drama "Monk" (USA 2002-09) and himself in the political thriller "Homeland" (Showtime 2011- ), sexy vampire drama "True Blood" (HBO 2008- ), and the comedy "Swing Vote" (2008) and action thriller "Olympus Has Fallen" (2013).