the early Eighteenth Century band of heroes known as the 47 Ronin were effectively
defeated before they ever began to fight. With their lord disgraced and their
clan evicted from its holdings, the masterless samurai achieved a measure of
payback, but it only delayed the inevitable end demanded by their bushido code.
Western concepts of honor and chivalry are somewhat different, but the wardrobe
and weaponry are close enough for government work. It is a story Japanese
filmmaker Kazuaki Kiriya must have heard countless times growing up. He now
brings their classic tale west, resetting it in a Medieval European looking
realm for his first English language production, Last Knights (trailer
which opens this Friday in New York.
Bartok is a wise and just clan leader, who also experiments with atonal
composition. His forces are captained by Raiden, a warrior who rose up from the
peasantry to be renowned for his badassery. While Bartok lands remain peaceful,
trouble brews in the capitol, where the Emperor’s chancellor, Geza Mott has
become brazen in his corruption. Bartok arrives at court to rally the noblemen
against Mott, but he is outplayed by the tyrannical psychopath. Sadly, it will
cost Bartok his head and the anguished Raiden will be the one to sever it.
Bartok clan is dispossessed and dispersed, with his guardsmen assuming civilian
jobs. They mostly get on with their new lives, except Raiden, who retreats
inside a cask of ale. However, the paranoid Mott cannot believe the Bartok commander
is not biding his time, which of course he is. Nevertheless, his honorable but
honor-bound lieutenant Ito is convinced Raiden is the empty shell of a man he
appears to be.
this is the sort of empire Alexander aspired to rule, spanning all the known
continents of the Middle Ages. Its relentlessly multi-ethnic composition makes
little historical sense, but at least it allows Kiriya to assemble a truly international
ensemble, including Morgan Freeman as Lord Bartok, Iranian Peyman Moaadi (best
known for A Separation) as the
Emperor, Norwegian Aksel Hennie (Headhunters)
as Mott, and veteran Korean actor Ahn Sung-ki as his principled father-in-law, Lord
Auguste. Some of that casting makes sense, some of it not so much.
surprisingly, Freeman gives an exquisitely dignified
defiance-in-the-face-of-death speech that the film never really tops. Still,
Ahn gives it all kinds of gravitas it would not otherwise have. To his credit,
Hennie exhibits no shame or modesty hamming it up something fierce as Mott. It
is also nice to see Shohreh Aghdashloo, no matter how briefly, as Lady Bartok.
On the other hand, Moaadi just looks and sounds uncomfortable as the Emperor.
Owen is relatively solid in the lead, since Raiden is definitely the strong,
silent type. Frankly, he is one of the few name actors working today who is
manly enough to swing a broad sword convincingly. Nevertheless, Tsuyoshi Ihara upstages
everyone as Ito, the retainer disgusted by his master but duty-bound to do his
bidding. He has first-class action chops, but also expresses his character’s
classically tragic nature.
is so obviously the 47 Ronin, it is weird the film
does not make winking acknowledgement in some way, but perhaps the producers
were a little skittish about the connection, given the egg laid at the box
office by the Keanu Reeves remake. There is some decent swordplay in Knights, but also some awkward personal
drama. Most of possum-playing Raiden’s scenes with his long suffering wife Naomi
(Israeli Ayelet Zurer) are truly cringe-worthy. At least the film productively
gets down to business when it is time to storm the castle. It is also strangely
fascinating to spot each new nationality the filmmakers manage to inclusively
shoehorn in. Recommended as a guilty pleasure for fans of swashbuckling with no
pretense of verisimilitude, Last Knights opens
this Friday (4/3) in New York, at the Quad Cinema.
Labels: 47 Ronin, Clive Owen, Morgan Freeman