"The Last Samurai"
Directed by Edward Zwick.
Written by John Logan, Edward Zwick and Marshall Herskovitz.
Starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe.
Release Year: 2003
Review Date: 12/03
Here’s the thing that I love about Tom
Cruise movies: for the most part, you know that you are going to
get a quality production, and Tom isn’t going to fuck around too
much. Teaming up with the director of one of my favorite films,
“Glory”, I had a good feeling about this one coming in.
Edward Zwick, who directed the film and also
won the Best Director award from the National Board of Review for
“The Last Samurai”, really does seem to be in complete control of
his craft with this effort, a solid film throughout despite a
sketchy ending. Cruise plays Captain Nathan Algren, a veteran of
many battles in the late 1880s when he is approached by a former
commander for a new line of work. Algren is needed to train
Japanese soldiers for a conflict against rogue samurai that oppose
the current emperor. Once Algren gets to Japan, he trains the
soldiers but during a conflict is captured by the leader of the
samurai faction, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Rather than killing him,
Katsumoto uses Algren to learn more about American war tactics, the
English language, and to ease his mind following a premonition he
has earlier in the film.
Cruise is great in this film. His normal
charisma works well here, especially in some just hilarious scenes
with his character’s captors; I can’t tell you how hard I was
laughing when, after being beat down by one of Katsumoto’s henchmen,
Algren talks about how he was “remiss” in not thanking another
character for protecting him during said beatdown; the deadpan
nature of the humor is in perfect contrast to some physical comedy
later when Algren tries on a kimono for the first time. Much like
the romantic subplot with Taka, sister of Katsumoto (Koyuki), Zwick
approaches many things in the movie with such beautiful subtlety
that you almost don’t notice he’s doing it to you. Taka’s initial
reservations about keeping Algren alive are predictable; her
approach to the situation is not glamorized or—worse—“Americanized”
at any point. A sequence where she is dressing Algren before the
climactic battle is maybe the best scene in the movie.
Naturally, Zwick’s experience with “Glory”
and “Legends of the Fall” means that the battle and action sequences
will be well-handled, so it is no surprise that all of these are
awesome in scope, with lots of blood, good sword action and the
like. The prep for the big finale is cool, and as my friend Toby
Campbell whispered to me as we were sitting in the theater, “I love
bloodshed!!” With a budget of $140 million, you would hope that the
sets, the cinematography, the costumes and all of the things
associated with the look of the film are excellent…and, they are.
The film does drag a little between action
set pieces, and the ending is, well, a little ridiculous, and you
have to see it to know what I mean. But, otherwise this is a great
film. Check, check, check it out…
Rating: $9.50 Show
Comments? Drop me a line at
Bellview Rating System:
"Opening Weekend": This is
the highest rating a movie can receive. Reserved for movies that
exhibit the highest level of acting, plot, character development,
setting...or Salma Hayek. Not necessarily in that order.
"$X.XX Show": This price
changes each year due to the inflation of movie prices; currently,
it is the $9.50 Show. While not technically perfect, this is a
movie that will still entertain you at a very high level.
"Undercover Brother" falls into this category; it's no "Casablanca",
but you'll have a great time watching. The $9.50 Show won't win any
Oscars, but you'll be quoting lines from the thing for ages (see
"Matinee": An average movie
that merits no more than a $6.50 viewing at your local theater.
Seeing it for less than $9.50 will make you feel a lot better about
yourself. A movie like "Blue Crush" fits this category; you leave
the theater saying "That wasn't too bad...man, did you see that
Lakers game last night?"
"Rental": This rating
indicates a movie that you see in the previews and say to your
friend, "I'll be sure to miss that one." Mostly forgettable, you
couldn't lose too much by going to Hollywood Video and paying $3 to
watch it with your sig other, but you would only do that if the
video store was out of copies of "Ronin." If you can, see this
movie for free. This is what your TV Guide would give "one and a
"Hard Vice": This rating is
the bottom of the barrel. A movie that only six other human beings
have witnessed, this is the worst movie I have ever seen. A Shannon
Tweed "thriller," it is so bad as to be funny during almost every
one of its 84 minutes, and includes the worst ending ever put into a
movie. Marginally worse than "Cabin Boy", "The Avengers" or
"Leonard, Part 6", this rating means that you should avoid this
movie at all costs, or no costs, EVEN IF YOU CAN SEE IT FOR FREE!
(Warning: strong profanity will be used in all reviews of "Hard