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Saturday, 11 January 2014

The Thin White Dude's Reviews - 47 Ronin

Directed by: Carl Erick Rinsch

Produced by: Pamela Abdy
Eric McLeod

Screenplay by: Chris Morgan
Hossein Amini

Story by: Chris Morgan
Walter Hamada

Starring: Keanu Reeves
Hiroyuki Sanada
Tadanobu Asano
Rinko Kikuchi
Kou Shibasaki
Jin Akanishi
Min Tanaka

Music by: Ilan Eshkeri

Cinematography by: John Mathieson

Editing by: Craig Wood

Studio(s): H2F Entertainment
Mid Atlantic Films
Moving Picture Company
Stuber Productions

Distributed by: Universal Pictures

Release date(s): December 6, 2013 (Japan)
December 25, 2013 (United States)
December 26, 2013 (United Kingdom and Hungary)

Running time: 119 minutes

Country(s): United States
United Kingdom

Language(s): English

Production budget: $175 million

Box-office revenue (as of publication): $86, 099, 885

This review is brought to you in collaboration with Daft Punk and Random Access Memories. I finally picked the album up for £4 earlier in the week and seeing as how I have a longer shift working corporate hospitality in the evening, I'm just gonna crash and listen to this. I've been a fan of Daft Punk for many years, with Discovery being one of my favourite albums, and seeing as how Get Lucky was effectively the song of the summer in 2013, I figured it'd be timely to listen to it. So, for all the latest and greatest in movies (any album accompaniment suggestions would be helpful), keep your eyes posted!

Today's movie up for review is 47 Ronin, an American samurai action fantasy starring Keanu Reeves. It is the latest in the line of Chushingura, presenting a fictional account of the historical incident at the start of the 18th century involving the Forty-seven ronin taking revenge for their master's death, and as a result of committing murder, the group were forced to commit seppuku, and is considered one of the great tales of Japanese legend and the most famous example of the bushido code of honour. This adaptation itself became a movie of some note before it was even released. Originally meant to be released on November 21, 2012, it pushed back to February 8, 2013 and then December 25, 2013, firstly because of work needed on 3D visual effects, and secondly because of reshoots and post-production. The film has, in it's relatively short release window, become noted for being a major box-office flop, after grossing less than $100 million off of its $175 million budget, and was savaged by critics, with sentiments such as that of the Village Voice's Alan Schersuhl, who described the film as "Solemn as a funeral march," being near enough the general consensus. Aside from that context, I will admit to going into the film with an open mind, so don't just think I'm gonna fall in line. Plot synopsis goes that outcast Kai (Keanu Reeves), the orphaned son of a Japanese peasant woman and British sailor, is in love with Mika (Kou Shibasaki), a childhood friend and daughter of Lord Asano (Min Tanaka), the master of a group of samurai. Lord Kira (Tadanobu Asano), who is Asano's rival, while the two jockey for the support of the Shogun, orchestrates a plot with the sorceress Mizuki (Rinko Kikuchi) which sees Asano being manipulated into attacking Kira, which sees him committing seppuku, the banishment of his samurai, who become wandering ronin, and Mika is forced into an engagement with Kira as penance for her father's supposed misdeeds. A year later, Oishi (Hiroyuki Sanada), a former samurai under Asano, after being released from imprisonment, convinces Kai to leave the slave traders who engaging in underground fighting for, and with himself as leader, reforms the forty-seven ronin of the title into a plot of revenge against Kira. Got it? Good!

So, starting with the good, and indeed there is a fair amount of good about 47 Ronin, contrary to the philandering of many critics, who, with Oscar season being here, are probably relishing the opportunity for a whipping boy in between their gross rhetoric of quotes that'll get them quoted prominently on posters and advertisements. The production of the mise-en-scene on the film is really strong. At no point does this not look (appropriately) like a period film. There must have been a lot of work that went into the physical sets, the props and the costumes. Also, though it was shot between locations like Budapest and lots on Shepperton Studios, it never feels like a big studio lot film. I know I'm rather biased in this regard, but I always respect it whenever there is this physical spectacle to enjoy. Speaking of spectacle, though I suspect visual effects may have played a part, this is a big film with big scope, with lots of extras and things going on in the background to help create the illusion. As such, when we see these great big action sequences, they are enjoyable, fun to watch, and feel like small pieces in a larger puzzle. It's also rather well shot by cinematographer John Mathieson, who know a thing or two about how shoot big-budget action films, as we've seen on his work with Ridley Scott (Gladiator, Kingdom Of Heaven) and on the likes of X-Men: First Class. Finally, although he regularly takes a critical flogging, I liked Keanu Reeves' acting and his character. He does a good and convincing job, in light of the abuse the character takes from others around him, of playing a humble and modest man.

Now, while there were things that I liked about 47 Ronin, I still have to say that my opinion is negative than positive. I'll start with the script, because that is the base from which all of the other problems with the film emerge. It's a big, two hour epic film, and the script, by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini, is written as such. Both seem to have been brought in for their respective backgrounds in scribing action films and dramas, but the two styles never really meld properly. On the one hand, you've got this striving towards a sort-of Lord Of The Rings-style grandeur in the action, and on the other a passionate love story. Like Oblivion, though more so, it takes from the screenplay textbook of having a small plot and a big plot operating in cohesion, though here it does not work. Also, there is nary a pinch of salt taken with the film, and in striving to be a big glorious epic, the screenwriters have took the writing of the dialogue and plot too seriously. The entire first act (which lasts about forty-five minutes) could have been compressed to a five-ten minute prologue, and because of the grand nature of the piece, the actors, who in fairness should have known better, overact to the nth degree. Reeves actually manages to escape this, but the same cannot be said for the rest of the cast. You have an international cast of highly talented actors from Japan, including Hiroyuki Sanada, Kou Shibasaki, Rinko Kikuchi and Tadanodu Asano, one of the finest actors of the past fifteen years, and all of them are, well, rubbish. Every line of dialogue comes across as forced and stilted. If this were a silent movie set, I could just imagine the director saying such rubbish as "More emotion, more passion, blah, blah, blah," to encourage them. I'm sorry, I like all of them, but these lines are delivered with such an air of self-importance and profundity that it becomes almost parodic, and I'm looked at them in the same way the audience in the same way the audience looked at Don Lockwood's "I love you, I love you, I love you" in The Dueling Cavalier's test screening, except it is so humourless and unfunny that it acts it strangely becomes noxious towards any sort of irony that may be derived from it. Furthermore, there's a score here as well by Ilan Eshkeri that plays right along those lines of posterity. It's one of those big Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra works that we've heard hundred of times in so many different variations that all see to ironically sound the same, telling me when I should crying, and no, I'm not going to cry, because that character that died there have about three or four lines at the most to establish himself and despite being played by a rather large actor, his characterisation is thin and I just don't care, sorry Ilan, you're just not going to sell me on this dribblesome boohick. Near the end of the movie, I won't lie, I did feel myself starting to drift off, and when you have a guy who grew up watching martial arts movies, loves the jidaigeki/chanbara genres and digs the central themes of honour, courage, loyalty and respect, falling asleep, that ain't a good thing at all!

47 Ronin is the kind of movie I really should like. Indeed, it has martial-arts, fantasy, a fine international cast, and is not without merit, for the overall production of the mise-en-scene is well established, the action sequences are good, it's shot with elegance by John Mathieson and Keanu Reeves is suitably understated in his part. However, the central problem with the film emerges from the fact that it is so self-important that it would be parodic if it wasn't so dull at the same time. The script does that textbook screenplay thing of small story/romance/drama mixed in with big story/action/adventure and they don't meld properly, and the first act could have been compressed to about five minutes in a prologue. Furthermore, the actors are as complicit in this, because every line is delivered with such overacted profundity that it sounds like The Dueling Cavalier and the score also plays into this, in that it does the whole Emotional Heartstrings Orchestra schtick of trying to prod us into certain emotional reactions, and I'm just not being sold over on it. Given how much time and effort went into this, and that Kurosawa's Ran was made on a $12 million budget, and Takashi Miike's recent 13 Assassins made for half that, you would think with $175 million we would have something more than a relatively disposable and most unremarkable picture that failed to genuinely engage me. 

The Thin White Dude's Prognosis - 3.9/10

The Thin White Dude's Self-Diagnosis - Cool (day off, cup of tea, boo yeah!)

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