The Last Samurai


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The Last Samurai
"There is bloody swordplay, lessons in valour, ingrained sentimentality and no surprises."

You can sell a movie with a poster. The bearded, longhaired Tom Cruise, astride a sweating thoroughbred in mid battle, says it all.

The period is the 1870s. Nathan Algren (Cruise) is an ex-army officer who has seen too much slaughter in the Redskin wars. He's now working for a rifle manufacturer, travelling round the not-yet-united States, as part of a sales drive. He's drinking like a fish and performing the role of heroic Indian fighter with a heavy heart. He hates his job; he hates himself - you know the rest.

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An old pal, called Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly), picks him out of the gutter one evening and offers him a job. It means sobering up and going to Japan to help the Emperor crush a little light uprising in one of the provinces. "For $500 a month, I'll kill anyone you want," the sloshed Algren burbles.

Anyway, he takes the job, is captured by the rebel forces during their first skirmish and ends up in the mountain village where the bad guys live. Of course, they are the good guys, really, being samurai ("They devote themselves to the perfection of what they do"), and Algren doesn't take long to go native and join their training schedules.

Everything about this film is simplistic. The Emperor is young and weak, but nice underneath. The Japanese businessmen who manipulate him are devious and greedy. The US captain (Tony Goldwyn), hired to orchestrate the war against the rebels, is a bastard. The samurai are noble, disciplined and honourable. The countryside is idyllic and the village perfectly at peace.

Director Edward Zwick indulges slow motion wherever possible. The fight scenes become poetry in motion. Algren is billeted in the house of a man he killed in hand-to-hand combat, who, naturally, has the sweetest children and a beautiful young wife (Koyuki). You could write the script from here. Algren broods; it rains; he makes friends with Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), the samurai leader; the army masses along the lower meadows; love flickers across the pale face of the grieving widow.

For two-and-a-half hours, the film does what it says on the tin. There is bloody swordplay, lessons in valour, ingrained sentimentality and no surprises.

Girls are advised to buy the poster and leave the movie for the boys.

Reviewed on: 08 Jan 2004
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Tom Cruise goes native in Japan in the years when honour was prized more highly than life itself.
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Read more The Last Samurai reviews:

Stephen Carty *****

Director: Edward Zwick

Writer: John Logan, Edward Zwick, Marshall Herskovitz

Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Timothy Spall, Billy Connolly, Koyuki, Tony Goldwyn, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Masato Harada, Shin Koyamada, Hiroyuki Sanada, Shun Sugata, Aoi Minato, Seizo Fukumoto

Year: 2003

Runtime: 144 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US/New Zealand/Japan


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