47 Ronin tells a story of revenge... well, perhaps it’s actually a tale about justice and honor. Keanu Reeves stars as a “half-breed” who runs away from a wickedly magical forest as a boy and is adopted by a mid-1800s kingdom in feudal Japan. Reeves’ Kai is an outcast and constantly over his life told that he doesn’t belong, that he is less than a person in the eyes of his community. But, Mika (Ko Shibasaki), the princess of the land, takes an interest in him and they develop a friendship and more over the years.
The action truly picks up with Reeves’ Kai as a grown man, toiling at whatever his adopted clan needs him to do. The Shogun is coming to their principality and so are other clans for the annual games that pit each community’s best samurais against each other in feats of strength and talent. Something happens (no spoilers here!) and the kingdom is taken over by an evil prince who wishes to take Mika’s hand in marriage and thus rule over her land. Kai and the 47 samurai are banished, told to never return. A Ronin is a samurai who has been disgraced and banished, thus… the title.
The film picks up a year later with the de facto leader of the Ronin determined to fight for justice. He doesn’t know why, but he knows he needs Kai and starts his journey to justice by finding him and breaking him out of the slavery chains he is bound in. It is here that the difference between revenge and justice is laid out by 47 Ronin’s director Carl Rinsch and his screenplay, penned by Chris Morgan and Hossein Amini. In Japanese culture, the concept of honor is as serious as it comes. And this desire to have the 47 Ronin take back their kingdom is laid out as more of a journey towards restoring honor than extolling revenge.
The action, teased in the 47 Ronin trailer, is top notch and fans of martial arts have themselves quite a Christmas present with the arrival of Reeves’ latest. And the star doesn’t disappoint. Reeves is best when he portrays characters that are men of few words and he has that with Kai. Kai is a man of action who knows to play the part given to him, even if it means sacrificing what his heart wants (i.e. Mika!). And for the first time since The Matrix, Reeves has an action film that fits his skill set. He executes his samurai moves with the best and as such, his place among the 47 Ronin can never be questioned.
Our 47 Ronin review reports that it is not the greatest samurai film we’ve seen. But, it is a unique take on the sub-genre of film, and with Reeves in the lead and a story about justice, honor, and yes… revenge, it is a nice journey to take. There are some slow spots, but for the most part, 47 Ronin rivets.