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Judy Thorburn's Movie Reviews

The Last Samuri

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Judy Thorburn

The Last Samuri

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Flick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha ChemplavilFlick Chicks Chick-O-Meter The Flick Chicks, film, video, movie reviews, critics, Judy Thorburn, Victoria Alexander, Polly Peluso, Shannon Onstot, Jacqueline Monahan, Tasha Chemplavil

“THE LAST SAMURAI” - ZEN CAME CRUISE

There is absolutely no doubt as to the drawing power of movie star Tom Cruise.  He is probably the most famous male star in the world.  Yet, he, alone, cannot a hit make.  But, with the Last Samurai he has nothing to worry about.  Tom is commanding in this starring role, and I hope he finally gets recognized for being such a fine actor and not just a megastar. If this role doesn’t do it, nothing will. But, even if Cruise is the initial reason to get yourself to the nearest theatre to see him on screen, he isn’t the only reason The Last Samurai is garnering praise from audiences. This is one outstanding epic adventure that will draw you in with all its powerful elements.  As one of the best movies of 2003 it should receive numerous Academy Award nominations in many categories including Best Picture nod

Tom plays Nathan Allgren, a guilt ridden decorated Civil War hero, in 1876 who spends most of his time trying to drown his memories of brutal Indian massacres with booze. His life is changed when Japan’s Emperor advisors, influenced by western offers of trade, hire him to come to Japan to train their army to fight against the tradition bound Samurai, who have protected their Emperor for centuries. Japan, undergoing a change from an old fashioned feudal society to a more modern progressive way of life, sees the Samurai, who live by a warrior code known as Buchido, that emphasized loyalty, courage, fortitude and sacrifice, and the discipline to master the sword, as archaic and a threat.

Allgren, goes to Japan with the thought of making $500 and no care or knowledge of his enemy, except for what he has been told by his racist former army commander, Colonel Benjamin Bagley (Tony Goldwyn). But, things change when the peasant soldiers he has trained with modern weapons get slaughtered in battle, and he finds himself surrounded by sword fighting Samurai warriors and their charismatic leader, Katsumoto.  Captured, and wounded he is brought to their village and nursed back to health by Katsumoto’s sister, the beautiful Taka, widow of the man he had killed in self-defense. It is during this time of healing that he becomes drawn to the Samurai’s way of life and sees something spiritual in their world and is aware of its power. As the seasons change, so does Allgren, with a transformation that includes learning the customs and language of his captors. As a captain in the army, there was no honor in murdering the innocent, and he has lived with that shame that brought with it recurring nightmares. But, while living with the Samurai he starts to see how the American white man’s brutality against the Native Americans mirrors the Japanese attempt to eradicate the Samurai.  With enlightenment comes the realization that Allgren cannot be part of destroying what he has come to love. The Samurai’s fight becomes his, as he bonds with a new culture and a chance for redemption.

Although this is ultimately Cruise’s movie, Ken Watanabe, new to American audiences, is a found gem as Katsumoto, the last of the great Samurai leaders.  Regal and possessing a majestic strength and countenance, he is both fearsome and contemplative, a warrior with a poet’s soul who teaches Allgren about seeking perfection in everything, even in death. Lovely Koyuki brings a noble dignity and beauty to the quiet but strong Taka, Allgren’s nurse, who slowly grows to love the man who killed her husband. Though she hardly spoke, her every gaze and graceful gestures evoked volumes.   Hiroyuki Sanada as Katsumoto’s top warrior, Shin Koyamada, as Katsimoto’s faithful son Nobutada, and even Taka’s small son, who shares some poignant moments with Allgren, are compelling characters developed in such a way that we care about them enough to become emotionally involved.

Kudos must be given to director Edward Zwick, (Glory, Legends of the Fall) for delivering another excellent historical epic, scripted by Zwick and co-writers John Logan (Gladiator) and Marshall Herskovitz that sweeps across the screen in perfect pace. It’s a grand visual experience of another time and place, with master cinematography by John Toll (The Thin Red Line) that captures the lush vistas of Japan’s countryside and the brutally graphic battle scenes with intensity.  Every detail in this period piece is stunning, from set design, makeup and costumes, to the rousing score by Hans Zimmer.

My only complaint is the ending that should have been on the battlefield, but instead places Cruise in the position of redeemer and redeemed, the great white hero who saves the day. It really didn’t fit into Allgren’s newfound wisdom and choice to be “one” with the Samurai. It’s a pure Hollywood ending, a happier completion for audiences to walk away from, although not in keeping with Allgren’s understanding of the Samurai’s code.

Yet, looking at the entire scope, I find the Last Samurai to be an intelligent, NEARLY flawless film with great action sequences and a powerful storyline about love, respect, honor and redemption.  Kevin Costner won praise for his similar journey, Dances With Wolves that entailed Native American territory. This could be Tom Cruise’s time, where honor learned on screen could be reflected in honors given by his peers. But, that would all depend on the ACADEMY’S code of honor!