The last time we saw Keanu Reeves, he was interviewing a Who’s Who of filmmakers in the digital vs. celluloid documentary Side By Side. A surprisingly effective host at home alongside these legends, the turn suggested a future away from the empty action flicks and dumb romances that had become his M.O. Now comes 47 Ronin, a dopey-looking 3D adventure in which Keanu appears to be regressing once more. Turns out the joke’s on us as the samurai film is actually sorta kinda good…or at least not the dud so many have made it out to be.
According to IMDb, this is the sixth cinematic telling of the Japanese legend involving disgraced Japanese warriors battling the treacherous lord (played here by Thor’s Tadanobu Asano) who wronged their master from his palace. It seems safe to say that Carl Rinsch’s is the first to feature an evil shape-shifting witch (Pacific Rim’s Rinko Kikuchi) who can fly around like a beautifully orchestrated silk ribbon, but there may have been an innovative special effect in Kenji Mizoguchi’s The 47 Ronin (1941) that accomplished something similar. Along with such flourishes, the new version is set on delivering decent thrills without much down time in between, namely through well-orchestrated and cleanly shot swordplay. Most importantly, it chooses a tone and sticks to it, yet also finds room for a few lines of tasteful humor right at the point where an excess of seriousness could have taken the film over the edge.
Though they share Hiroyuki Sanada, 47 Ronin is better than the year’s other white man in Japan movie, The Wolverine, which proved Hugh Jackman needs a few X-friends for his claws to be effective. Reeves with a blade, surrounded by a mix of sorcery and old fashioned heroics is better than that mess. With traces of Takashi Miike’s Hara-Kiri: Death of a Samurai and a general elevated attention to detail, such a project is bound to work regardless of its occasional unintentional silliness. Expect nothing more and a competent, action-filled time awaits.
Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some disturbing images, and thematic elements.
47 Ronin is currently playing at the Carolina Cinemas on Hendersonville Rd.