The Last Samurai

Movies about war tend to kick serious ass.

Even if they're flawed, they're still highly entertaining as long as they include a giant battle with hundreds of people going at each others throats.

I actually prefer period piece war movies. Tales from times when battles were fought by men and their pride, not countries and their supplies of technology.

When I think of war movies that capture a moment in time in the history of humankind in a fashion that pulls you into the film, a handful of titles come to mind... Braveheart, Zulu, Gladiator, and The Patriot, to name a few. Sure, Michael Caine, Mel Gibson, and Russell Crowe weren't perfect in those movies. The movies weren't even close to perfect. But they worked.

Emotional stories in times of war where you feel for and relate to the characters, and just when its starting to get too fucking sappy, a big fight breaks out. Then, towards the end, someone dies a real man's death in a brave and noble way on the battlefield. Things get emotional again for a minute and the credits roll.

Its a formula that works, and Ed Zwick knows this. Hence his creature: the Tom Cruise-driven "Last Samurai."

I can soundly say that "The Last Samurai" is the best movie I've seen this year, barnone.

Cruise plays a U.S. general who is an expert at ridding the country of Indians. The Japanese government recruits him (with a little help and twisting of the arm from Cruise's superior) and Cruise ends up in Japan training soldiers to fight off "primitive" Samurai - the Japanese equivalent of America's Indian problem. The Samurai, who use only swords, arrows and armor, fight for the old ways of Japan, while the emperor insists on adopting new, civilized ways of life. In the heat of battle, the Samurai capture Cruise and nurse him back to health, all while he learns the customs of the Samurai way.

The film is full of explosive battle action sequences and brilliantly choreographed swordfighting, as well as containing quite possibly the coolest ninja attack in the history of cinema. "The Last Samurai" also offers an interesting look at the ways of the old East and the contrasts with American culture.

The issue of the culture clash between the old and new in the film is just as prevalent in the world today as it was in Japan in the late 1800s, making the story relevant and intriguing. The respect and admiration the people and even elders of Japan have for their "enemy," the Samurai, also provides a fascinating take on Japanese culture and customs.

If Braveheart, Gladiator and the like tickle your fancy "The Last Samurai" is for you. If not, you may still enjoy the flick for its representation of Eastern philosophy and culture. Either way, it's worth checking out.

And, for now, it stands as my favorite movie of 2003. That is, at least, until December 17th...

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2003 - 2005
Reverend Hughes