THE LAST SAMURAI stars Hollywood's number one A-list actor Tom Cruise as
Civil War veteran Captain Woodrow Algren, a washed-up American hero haunted
by nightmares of his participation in the Little Big Horn debacle. A
drunkard who makes his living hawking firearms like a cheap carnival barker,
he is offered several times his salary to go to Japan to teach modern
warfare to their soldiers.
This hot-and-cold action picture, set in 1876, is directed by Edward Zwick,
who can normally be counted on for fast paced dramas such as THE SIEGE and
COURAGE UNDER FIRE. This time he starts the film cutely and dramatically
and then lets it bog down in a long, pretentious middle section that
sometimes feels more like an endurance contest than a movie.
After being captured by the rebels he is fighting, Algren comes to love and
respect his captors and learns how to fight as a samurai, without the use of
modern weaponry. The analogies to the training in the ways of the Jedi from
THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK are obvious -- only the light saber and Yoda are
missing. This snoozer of a middle is interrupted by a big Ninja fight
sequence that is simply spectacular. In fact, whenever the movie involves
fighting, it soars. The battle armor is incredible, and the costumes and
the music are certain choices for Oscar nominations.
After all of his training, including getting beaten repeatedly by sticks,
and after having to utter some awkward and pretentious dialog ("I am beset
by the ironies of my life."), Algren and his previous enemy, Katsumoto (Ken
Watanabe), finally fight together in a battle royal that is truly awesome.
This sequence is reminiscent of the large battle segment in GETTYSBURG. THE
LAST SAMURAI isn't a bad film, but it could and should have been a great
one. If you just wait and see it on video, you can easily edit out the many
THE LAST SAMURAI runs way too long at 2:32. The film is in Japanese with
English subtitles and in English. It is rated R for "strong violence and
battle sequences" and would be acceptable for teenagers.
My son Jeffrey, age 14, said that it was one of the best movies of the year
and gave it ****. He was very touched by it and said that it was one of the
few movies that made him tear-up. He loved the costumes, the music, the
action and the character development. He found the film realistic, and he
especially liked the ending.
Copyright © 2003 Steve Rhodes