The Last Samurai


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"Tom Cruise had long hair in this film, which is how really good actors show that they're committed to a part and really into the character."



The Last Samurai
The Masked Reviewer

The Last Samurai isn't the first Last Samurai; the 1990 film, The Last Samurai starred Lance Henriksen (Aliens) and John Saxon (Enter the Dragon).  Though that Last Samurai wasn't, in fact, the last Last Samurai, it was also not the best Last Samurai.  Perhaps it should have been called The Penultimate Samurai.  That sounds more impressive anyway.

This Last Samurai stars ex-Mr. Nicole Kidman, Tom Cruise.  It's what the big time movie executives call "an epic".  That means that it costs a lot of money to make, and even though it's just a big action film, it'll be over 2 hours in length and pushed hard for Academy Award(tm) nominations.

The movie is awfully darn familiar.  It will remind viewers of Dances with Wolves, Braveheart, and Gladiator.  Most of all, it will draw many comparisons to Richard Chamberlin's 1980 TV miniseries, "Shogun".  It combines many elements from these films, but doesn't seem to contribute anything new or original.  However, even though the story feels well-worn, it is well done and interesting.  Perhaps this is a reflection on the Masked Reviewer's own preferences, but the setting makes a big difference.  If you like westerns, Dances with Wolves is the one you'll like.  If you enjoy a more medieval setting for your bloody battles, Braveheart is the way to go.  If ancient Rome floats your boat, Gladiator is the obvious choice.  For those of you who like samurai and a mixture of modern and ancient weaponry, The Last Samurai is the one for you.  Yes, there's still "Shogun", but that's a miniseries and doesn't satisfy the way an epic movie can. 

As for the performances, Tom Cruise is very good.  Those of you who follow Tom Cruise's career closely may notice that he doesn't have a tremendous range in the characters he plays.  They all seem somewhat similar.  Jerry Maguire, Top Gun, A Few Good Men, Mission Impossible II: he plays a guy who yells a lot and smiles a lot.  Well, if you're making $15 million a film, don't screw around with the formula, the Masked Reviewer says.  He seems to be playing himself, more or less, and it works.  He's likeable and that seems to be very important in an epic film since you've got to watch the same person on screen for two-and-a-half hours. 

There aren't a lot of other faces you'll recognize in the film (one looked like the Masked Reviewer's high school music teacher).  Billy Connolly (who is also in Timeline) has a small role, but he's convincing in it.  There are a number of Japanese actors (not surprising to find in a film set in Japan), most notably is Ken Watanabe as the leader of the samurai.  His chemistry with Tom Cruise is good, and they both give fine performances.  Watanabe bares a passing resemblance to WWE wrestler, The Rock. 

Epic battles are a key ingredient in epic films, and though the first couple of battles in The Last Samurai are kind of a let down (it only looks like there are about twelve people on the battlefield), the impressiveness grows as the film goes on.  By the end, it's just like the epic battles in Gladiator or Braveheart

In the movie, Tom Cruise spends more than a year with exactly the same two weeks of scraggily beard on his chin.  The audience must be wondering whether that's all the beard he can grow, or if he spent hour plucking and shaving in a very specific way to get just that look.  The question of Tom Cruise's facial hair lingers long after the film ends.  How would he get that look in the 19th century?  We may never know, but it's nice to see a movie that makes you think.

The end of the film becomes anti-climactic and drags after the last big battle.  The Last Samurai would have benefited from some additional editing to bring it down to about two hours or less; however things don't feel like they're plodding along until the last several minutes.

The end credits explain that there was an oxen trainer and an oxen wrangler, but the Masked Reviewer doesn't remember seeing any oxen in the film.  Perhaps they got cut out of the film.  Too bad.  You don't see enough oxen these days. 

If you're a member of the Academy (tm) take note that Tom Cruise had long hair in this film, which is how really good actors show that they're committed to a part and really into the character.  He had long hair and a beard.  Telly Savalas never won an Oscar(tm).

All in all, it's a fine epic.  If you enjoy epics, and Tom Cruise, and Japanese culture, this is a good choice!  If any of those three ingredients don't appeal to you, you won't be missing anything that will change your life forever, but it is an entertaining film.  This is probably Tom Cruise's best shot  to win an Oscar(tm), at least this year.  It seems to have been tailor made to incorporate all of the elements of an Oscar(tm)-worthy masterpiece.  Perhaps because of that, it all seems a bit too familiar, but it still manages to be fun.  Shorter would have been better.


Expectation from the Title: A movie about a bunch of Japanese feudal warriors waiting in line for tickets to see ZZ Top.  As the queue slowly progresses, the warrior at the end of the line must learn to accept that by the time he gets to the ticket window, they may be sold out.

Mother's Rule (Always Say Something Good About Everything):  The scenery of Japan is beautiful, even though it was probably shot in New Zealand.

The Pros: Nice story, if not original.  Some touching moments, some impressive battle scenes.  A good sense of the samurai code, which some may find interesting.

The Cons: You may feel like you've seen it all before; a bit too obvious in its pursuit of Oscar(tm) gold. 

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