Keanu Reeves is one of those lucky actors, limited but likeable, with the knack for starring in seminal popcorn. Point Break, Speed, The Matrix – has any actor appeared in more action classics? But every lucky actor runs out of luck sooner or later, and it’s been a long time since Reeves has figured in the summer movie conversation.
His latest, 47 Ronin, a flop in America and plagued by production issues, is unlikely to change that. Which is a shame, because it’s more fun than the vast majority of the actual, honest-to-goodness blockbusters (Iron Man 3, The Lone Ranger, Man of Steel et al) that brought home the big bucks last year.
A clunky framing narration introduces us to the concept of the Ronin, the most shame-filled fellows in Japan – samurai who have failed to protect their master and now wander, leaderless. Then comes the thornier expository interlude, in which the unlikely presence of a white boy – future Keanu – in feudal Japan must be explained away. One sympathises with the makers of Hollywood movies like this. Who doesn’t want to make use of the big budgets only Hollywood regularly throws around to make a rollicking samurai yarn, or a gripping thriller about the plot to kill Hitler, or a panoramic epic about the crusaders’ clash with Saladin?
The problem is that to secure those budgets a filmmaker has to cast a big star, which straight away puts them on the back foot. If the director’s task is to make the world on screen a believable one, one that seems idiosyncratic and indigenous, Keanu Reeves wearing a kimono is not the best start. 47 Ronin at least seems to realise this, and steers clear, or clearer than most, of the white-man-as-saviour shtick Hollywood still trots out at an alarming rate (Dances With Wolves, The Last Samurai, Avatar).
47 Ronin is in theatres now.