THE LAST SAMURAI
Warner Bros, Dec 2003
Reviewed by Barbara Fielding
Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) of the Seventh Cavalry has become a drunken and embittered veteran following the Civil War and Custer's Indian Wars. Algren stays drunk because he is haunted by memories of the slaughter of Indian women and children. While a spokesman for the Winchester Rifle Company, he is invited by a former military buddy, Sergeant Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly), to dinner with a Japanese diplomat, Omura (Masato Harada). Speaking for the young Emperor Meiji (Shichinosuke Nakamura), Omura offers the Captain a job training the Japanese Army in western warfare along with one of Algren's old military rivals from the Indian wars, Colonel Benjamin Bagley (Tony Goldwyn). Omura's personal investment in the Japanese railroad fuels his desire to suppress the Samurai warriors who are hindering the growth of Western progress in his country.
Algren accepts the job. In Tokyo, he finds the peasant conscripts of the Japanese army poorly prepared to fight. Armed with newly imported rifles, the barely trained forces are ordered to battle to defend an attack against the railroad. The Emperor's army is routed by the swords of the highly skilled and disciplined Samurai warriors, and Captain Algren is taken captive.
The Samurai have protected Japan's Emperor for centuries and Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), the leader of the Samurai, feels honor bound to fight against the Western progress that threaten the traditions of the warriors. Prior to Algren's capture Katsumoto has a vision of a fierce white tiger. Katsumoto brings the injured American solider to his mountain village for the winter. While Algren recuperates in the house of Katsumoto's sister Taka (Koyuki), the two warriors cautiously study each other. Recovered from his battle wounds and with his head clear of the alcoholic haze, Algren experiences a transformation. He comes to admire and respect the Samurai ways and joins their battle for survival.
THE LAST SAMURAI is a moving tale of the honor, courage, discipline and fierce beauty of the ancient Samurai warriors. The age-old clash of politics and culture, progress and tradition, and East versus West, has created an action packed battle epic. The conflict and complex political motivations for the battles are vaguely spelled out but filmgoers are quickly caught up in the emotional drama of these characters.
Tom Cruise's intense portrayal of Captain Algren's transformation was wonderful and convincing. Surely this will be the year for an Oscar for this actor who has been nominated many times but never won. The lightening quick sword fights and massive battle scenes were breathtaking. Ken Watanabe's charismatic performance as Katsumoto, the Samurai leader, was magnificent.
The photography of John Toll (BRAVEHEART, THE THIN RED LINE), and wardrobe of the warriors made this film an awesome visual feast. The screenplay is written by John Logan, (GLADIATOR, THE TIME MACHINE) Marshall Herskovitz (DANGEROUS BEAUTY) and Edward Zwick. THE LAST SAMURAI is Rated R for violence for beheadings, graphic battle scenes and suicidal honor killings. Running time 144 minutes.
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