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"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


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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 "Office Space"). 

"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, 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 half stars." 

"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 Vice"-rated movies.)

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The "fine print":
All material by Justin Elliot Bell for SMR/Bellview/ except where noted
© 1999-2009 Justin Elliot Bell This site was last updated 01/08/09