Main      Site Guide    
At-A-Glance Film Reviews

The Last Samurai (2003)



Reviews and Comments

The Last Samurai is an intimate story of two men, disguised in a grand period epic. There are sweeping vistas, massive armies, and lofty ideals, but for all the breadth, the movie's heart lies in two men from divergent cultures who learn from each other. These two men are played by Tom Cruise, in one of his best performances unladen with the actor's trademarks, and Ken Watanabi, whose regal grace on the screen is a joy to watch. Although the structure of the plot may be familiar, the specifics transcend the formula, and we come to care deeply for the characters.

Because the film's focus is so intimate, the most gaping flaw is forgivable. The external story, about the westernization of Japan, has a distracting agenda. The movie takes a conspicuously politically correct stance and neither justifies it nor even allows the matter to be an open question, instead assuming a like-minded audience. Maybe I'm just not progressive enough or something, but I don't know why the westernization of Japan was inherently a bad thing, especially when it is welcomed by much of the Japanese people and its emperor. Without this question ever addressed, the quest of the "goodguys" cannot wholly be sympathized with, and the film's final scene is a jarring anti-climax, following, as it does, the natural resolutions of those more personal conflicts we do care about.

Distractions aside, this film is a beautiful work with a compelling perception of the human heart. Before The Last Samurai is even fully underway, we have come not just to care for the characters but to respect them as well.