The Last Samurai (2003) Review

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Dances with Samurai

The Last Samurai (2003): 8 out of 10: I admit I greeted this movie with low expectations. The idea of Tom Cruise as the last Samurai was laughable. The film altogether suspended this disbelief right until the awful last scene. Tom Cruise plays a drunken Civil War hero who hired by the Japanese government to modernize their army is captured by the Samurai rebels and falls in love with their doomed way of life.

And what a life. Every shot of the Samurai village is postcard perfect, almost to the point of unintended parody. Like Robert Redford’s take on Montana in “Legends of the Fall,” every view is spectacular, every sunset is orange, every leaf is colorful and falls just so, and all the characters are freshly scrubbed and dressed in their Sunday best. You wouldn’t be half surprised to see Hobbits pop out at any moment. The old time Samurai are romanticized to the nth degree. Historically, the Samurai at this point resembled Afghan warlords resisting a long overdue central government rather than the honorable colorfully armored knights that are depicted here. (Samurai no more wore armor in the late 18th century than the British army did.)

The picture, despite one or two faults works, the acting, with one exception, is uniformly excellent. The battle scenes are plentiful and full of surprises, and the pacing is excellent. On the dark side newcomer, Nakamura Shichinosuke II plays the Emperor of Japan like he was channeling Michael Jackson. The voice and mannerisms of the gloved one are as out of place for a Japanese emperor as it would be for the Pope. His strangely self-effacing dialogue doesn’t help his cause, yet it truly is his performance that is cringe-worthy. In addition, the last scene is an awful Hollywood copout. I still recommend The Last Samurai highly, however, as a thinking mans action movie.

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