A Film Review By Jason L. King
Rating: Rated R for strong violence and battle sequences.
Starring:Tom Cruise, Ken Wantabe
Directed By:Edward Zwick
I was a 16-year-old kid the first time I was truly introduced to another full culture. I was working on a farm, and my boss had an exchange student from Thailand staying with his family for a few months. The young man full name was something I can no longer remember, in fact all I remember is I never was able to say it correctly. He only smiled as we tried to pronounce it and told us in very unsteady English to call him only by the Nickname “O.” His lack of English and my lack of Thai culture made for quite an experience for me, I couldn’t understand him, and many times I found myself trying to explain my actions to him. Even explaining the simplest things was sometimes frustrating. He could not figure out what America’s Obsession with Baseball was, and why I forced him to listen to Atlanta Braves games, and I couldn’t figure out why Thailand thought that the Eagles and Bob Seager were the last “great American rock musicians.” By the time “O” left us though, my life had changed for the better. I had learned quite a bit about something I previously didn’t understand, and hopefully he learned something from me.
Tom Cruise’s latest project, the Last Samurai tells a tale that is not “too” distant from the point I was trying to make with the story above. Cruise plays Nathan Algren, a civil war vet who is hired by the Japanese Emperor to train his army in a battle against the Samurai. But when the Samurai during a battle captures Algren, he finds himself amongst a culture that is different than anything he has ever encountered before. During his time as a prisoner the samurai leader, Katsumoto, befriends him and he begins to learn the ancient culture of the Samurai and in return teaches Kotsumoto about the “American” style of warfare.
A lot of buzz has surrounded this film, lots of hints of Oscar buzz for Tom Cruise have been whispered in people’s ears for the last few weeks. And they spared no pennies in promoting the film; they have spent more money on advertisements for The Last Samurai than Ben Affleck has lost in a bad stretch of gambling binges. The point being, the makers of the film have made sure that it is well heard of. But just because a film is well advertised doesn’t mean that it is good. Millions of films have been well “advertised” and turned out to be total flops.
Luckily for Warner Brothers, all the advertising wasn’t for a film that is a lost cause. Tom Cruise does an excellent job in this film. He plays an extremely convincing role, and for once his character isn’t just an excuse for him to show off that trademark “pretty boy” smile that everyone has grown accustomed to since he first launched into superstardom. However Cruise was not the highlight of the film. Instead it was his supporting role; the Katsumoto Character played by Ken Wantabe that made the flick worth watching. Wantabe has a way of stealing a scene; his vigilant eyes and calm collected delivery of his lines prove to be a soothing and successful part of the film. And if you aren’t big on Character development in films, well you can be happy to know that there is quite a bit of good old fashion samurai sword fights in the flick as well, including a fairly impressive battle sequence nearing the very end of the flick.
The flick itself runs a little over 2 and half hours long, and normally I am the first to jump up and say anything over 90 minutes is getting too long for my tastes. For once, I’m not saying that. At no point during this movie did I ever look at my watch (it should be noted I wasn’t wearing a watch that day, but even if I had been I probably still wouldn’t have looked at it.). I was thoroughly entertained from start to finish, and the film flowed smoothly from scene to scene from the very beginning to the very end.
Of course I wouldn’t be me though if I didn’t find a error in a film, and rest assured kids, I found a few in this flick as well. Oddly enough throughout the film I felt like I had seen this before. It took me a while to figure out where or when, but it finally hit me. I felt like I was watching Dances With Wolves again. Now don’t let that scare you off, they are very different films, but have some of the same overtones to them. The White guy joins the “other” people and then learns their culture and eventually adopts their ways. Aside from the Dances with Wolves similarity, there also seemed to be a little bit too much white ego mixed into the film. It seemed as though they tried to point out to us that even though the great and honorable samurai were gifted warriors and Katsumoto was a gifted leader, it took the help of white man for them to take a successful stand against the “evil” white men.
But in the end, I’d have to say I enjoyed this flick. In a year of many downers for films this year, I can say The Last Samurai stands out as another of the years best. Now I’m holding my breath on any Oscars coming this way for this flick, only time will tell. All I will say is there is a chance for an Oscar nods or two come that time. But then again, does anyone actually trust those pesky Oscars anymore? If you do, well you shouldn’t (just kidding…maybe) Trust me instead. And trust me when I say the cash you shell out on tickets for The Last Samurai is worth it… Give yourself an Early Christmas Present this year and go check it out on the big screen. Most likely you will be glad you did.