Director: Carl Rinsch
Starring: Keanu Reeves, Hiroyuki Sanada, Ko Shibasaki, Tadanobu Asano, Min Tanaka
Written by: Chris Morgan, Hossein Amini and (screen story) Walter Hamada
Running Time: 119 mins
Release date: 26th December 2013
If you haven’t had enough of Christmas turkey then you could have your fill with this Hollywood version of an epic, legendary Japanese tale. Actually that’s not fair, as it’s not a complete turkey. More like a plate will all the trimmings and if you want something disposable, then this could be for you.
Kai is a half-breed hated by the samurai and treated like a slave in a small Japanese village. When an organised fight between a rival warlord and his chosen warrior goes wrong, leaving the village betrayed, and their leader dead while the samurai are banished. The warlord’s son plans to marry the daughter of the dead leader and turn the place into his own. While left in the wilderness, the samurai, Oishi, has to turn to the man he despises for help and with Kai on board, they form a band of outlaw warriors, or Ronin, to take back what is rightfully theirs.
When I said it was a turkey, it isn’t as bad as that. It does have a few things to its merit. It looks amazing, with sweeping scenery, and very high production values. The costumes alone are worth checking out. First time director Carl Rinsch is obviously heavily influenced by The Lord Of The Rings because it the way it plays out like the bastard son of that epic series of films. What Rinsch hasn’t learnt is less is more. He literally throws everything at the screen so we get excessive special effects and fight sequences galore.
In a way, it helps move the film along as it doesn’t give the audience a moment to take in the explanation scenes and realise how awful the dialogue really is. This is a B-movie dressed up as a blockbuster, with some of the most cringing lines to appear in a film this side of Titanic. So while we are mesmerised by witches, dragons and monks that look like birds, the cast battle against a script that makes little or no sense at all.
The performances mean nothing when you are fighting a giant monster in a woodland but while they are spouting drudge, they deliver the nonsense with the same earnest melodramatic monotone that makes it all sound far more important than it is. This plays nicely into the hands of Keanu Reeves, the only Hollywood star in the film (the rest of Japanese actors). Reeves has been accused in the past for his deadpan delivery and here he is positively Oscar worthy compared to his cast members. I did have a new-found respect for Reeves after his superb documentary about film making, Side By Side but here he returns to stuff he is more famous for. I just want him to go back to interviewing for documentaries as he does a good job there.
It might sound that I didn’t like this film. Surprisingly, I didn’t think it was as bad as it could have been. It does what it sets out to do and that is to entertain for the time it is on the screen. Nothing more. Nothing less. It’s almost instantly forgettable and six months down the line, you’ll probably won’t even remember seeing it but among the more award hunting dramas that are coming out in the next few weeks, it will perfect for those looking for something less meaningful. I must admit, I admired the non-Hollywood ending and while it is very messy, it’s fun for those not wanting to be battling the sales.