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The Last Samurai (2003)

  Directed by: Edward Zwick
Written by: John Logan
Starring: Billy Connolly, Tom Cruise, Tony Goldwyn, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe
Links: The Last Samurai on the IMDb, Official site, Buy the Soundtrack, Buy on Video, Buy on DVD
Genre: Action

This movie gets: 6.00 (1 rating)
nofreelist.com Ranking: not yet ranked (awaiting 2 ratings)

The Last Samurai (2003) is also mentioned in mino's review of Hidalgo (2004).

"A good film ruined" - a review by mino

Pop quiz, hotshots: name one movie in which Tom Cruise has ever actually proven himself to be a good actor.

Come on, have a think. No hurry, you've got as long as you need.

Not easy, is it? You'd think so — it's not easy to build a career like his without being a good actor — but, when you have a think about it, there's not much there. Magnolia (1999), maybe. Rain Man (1988). Nearly everything else he's been in has either been terrible (Jerry Maguire (1996), Vanilla Sky (2001)), or good despite him, rather than because of him (Eyes Wide Shut (1999), say).

The Last Samurai definitely falls into the latter category: it's quite a good movie, but the fact that Cruise stars in it pegs it back quite a few notches. With a better star, it could have actually been a great movie; as it is, it's merely OK. Cruise's acting technique in movies like this seems to be ‘furrow your eyebrows a lot and walk around like you've got a pineapple up your arse’, and it's frankly irritating.

The story behind The Last Samurai is great: Nathan Algren, a washed-up Civil War hero (Cruise, alas) is drafted into the newly-rebuilt Japanese Army to train them in the ways of war, in order to crush a rebellion led by the charismatic Samurai Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). After a disastrous initial assualt, Algren is captured by his enemy, and over time begins to develop a cautious friendship with him. The story is rather sweeping in scope, covering the slow death of the Samurai as a group, the impact of technology, the effects of politics and diplomacy on time-honoured traditions, and so on — all told through a story full of political intrigue (though this does seem patched-on — more of this would be nice) and massive battles.

While the story is great, and some of the performances fantastic — Watanabe, in particular, is absolutely wonderful — it's let down in a lot of ways, mostly due to awkward attempts at livening it up. The attempted comic relief provided by Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall is simultaneously unneeded, unwelcome, and unsuccessful; the bad guy (Tony Goldwyn) totally fails to incite any emotion, negative or otherwise; a potentially engaging romantic subplot is totally sucked of life by the utter lack of chemistry between the two actors.

In fact, that's a good summary of the rest of the film, emotionally speaking. The whole thing is rather ‘flat’, never really engaging the emotions at all, despite the obvious potential contained in the story.

Add in some of the most ridiculously pretentious ‘bookending’ voiceovers, a tendency to too-easily give up on innovative storytelling and fall back into cliché, yet another ridiculously twee ending, and you've got a movie which promises so much, yet just doesn't deliver.

The battle scenes are, indeed, very exciting (despite the appearance of the worst prosthetic head ever churned out by a special effects house), but I think the makers of The Last Samurai would do well to learn a lesson from Saving Private Ryan (1998): good battle scenes aren't enough to save you from an otherwise mediocre movie.

Oh, and one more free piece of advice from yours truly to any Hollywood types reading this: if your screenplay calls for someone to exclaim ‘You're alive!’ in a shocked tone, it's time to fire the writers and send it back for a rewrite. No good can come of that.

mino gives this movie 6 out of 10.
Review created on Tue 24 Feb 2004

Movie review statistics

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Reader comments

  1. I spent the whole movie waiting to cringe at their depiction of Japan.. to my suprise, it was actually pretty good.. and the samurai's were cool!!

    Rating given: 6

    A comment from hoist on Mon 01 Mar 2004 15:57 #

  2. you are dumb sweet movie

    Rating given: 10

    A comment from Trevor on Thu 16 Dec 2004 07:11 #

Those who have commented give this movie: 8.00 (2 ratings)

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