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Review Roundup: Waiting Five Years Didn't Save Samurai Epic '47 Ronin'

Photo of Ryan Lattanzio By Ryan Lattanzio | TOH! December 23, 2013 at 1:58PM

Apparently, a five-year production schedule, cycles of reshoots and a yearlong theatrical delay couldn't save the 3-D martial arts action film "47 Ronin" starring Keanu Reeves, a virtual absentee from the big screen these last few years. With eight reviews and counting, the Reeves Samurai epic currently sits at 14% on the Tomatometer.
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"47 Ronin"
"47 Ronin"

Apparently, a five-year production schedule, cycles of reshoots and a yearlong theatrical delay couldn't save the 3-D martial arts action film "47 Ronin" starring Keanu Reeves, a virtual absentee from the big screen in recent years. With eight assailing reviews and counting -- but why bother? -- the Reeves Samurai epic currently sits at 14% on the Tomatometer. Trailer below.

Warning signs were clear. After announcing the project in 2008 and finding their director in 2009, Universal gave first-time feature filmmaker Carl Rinsch $175 million for the project, a stylized -- and allegedly bastardized -- fantasy version of a time-honored Japanese revenge myth. In 2012, the studio put principal photography on pause so Reeves could pursue his directorial debut, "Man of Tai Chi." 

Would more time in the oven have saved "47 Ronin"? Judging from early reviews, the beleaguered CG-laden film, which costars Rinko Kikuchi and opens wide on December 25, is too far gone. Here's what the critics have to say.

Film.com:

Where native cinematic titans like Kenji Mizoguchi and Hiroshi Inagaki struggled to successfully adapt this historical saga, Hollywood was dedicated to succeed. If those two revered auteurs produced authentic human epics that were overwhelmed by the vast scope of their drama, Universal Studios' version would solve that problem by doubling down on myth and removing every last trace of humanity, adding generic flourishes of magic to the story (witches! giant creatures! that heavily tattooed guy who used to be one of Lady Gaga’s backup dancers!) until the national flavor at the heart of this story has been completely suffocated under an incoherent wail of florid bullshit.

Screen Daily:

An unremarkable fantasy-adventure, "47 Ronin" skimps on the samurai action and stumbles when trying to be about weightier themes such as honour and destiny. That's an unfortunate combination--and director Carl Rinsch’s feature debut also doesn't help its cause by relying on an overly solemn tone as it depicts a famous Japanese tale about a group of warriors who banded together to avenge their fallen lord. Keanu Reeves provides his usual serene gravitas, but on the whole the dearth of ingenuity dulls what could have been hearty, escapist fare.

Total Film:

The dialogue's so cliched it sounds like it's been translated from another language "I would rather have been killed by that beast than rescued by a half-breed!" intones one of the ronin). The strange pacing speaks of reshoots, inserts and trouble behind the scenes. Meanwhile, Reeves' particularly brand of sleepy handsomeness isn't enough to fill the gaps, and he barely has anything to do, so we're left with a bunch of Japan's finest actors speaking broken English like they're reading from cue cards.

Variety, reserving some praise for the visuals:

In Japan, the story of the 47 ronin is so central to the country's national identity that a special word exists for the act of retelling it: Chushingura. But despite this long tradition of flexible reinterpretation, the Hollywood-backed "47 Ronin" takes such liberties with the underlying legend that a different term comes to mind, one better suited to American actor Keanu Reeves' involvement: "bogus." So far, Japanese audiences have been slow to embrace a CG-heavy version of the story that offers Keanu as a previously unsung "half-breed" accomplice. Meanwhile, domestic crowds are being deliberately misled to think he's the star -- a high-stakes bait-and-switch sure to backfire on this narratively stiff but compositionally dazzling production.

This article is related to: 47 Ronin, Universal Pictures, Keanu Reeves, Reviews


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Born and raised in Manhattan, Anne Thompson grew up going to the Thalia and The New Yorker and wound up at grad Cinema Studies at NYU. She worked at United Artists and Film Comment before heading west as that magazine's west coast editor. She wrote for the LA Weekly, Sight and Sound, Empire, The New York Times and Entertainment Weekly before serving as West Coast Editor of Premiere. She wrote for The Washington Post, The London Observer, Wired, More, and Vanity Fair, and did staff stints at The Hollywood Reporter and Variety. She eventually took her blog Thompson on Hollywood to Indiewire. She taught film criticism at USC Critical Studies, and continues to host the fall semester of “Sneak Previews” for UCLA Extension.