Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai - Movie Reviews - Rotten Tomatoes

Ghost Dog - The Way of the Samurai Reviews

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Super Reviewer
½ May 8, 2008
A well-constructed and superb genre piece that has a terrific and poignant mixture of urban attitude, street savvy, stylistic shootings and compelling samurai wisdom along with gangster, western and martial arts genre films. A skillful and darkly engagging character study. A beautifully made and brilliant film. A sharply entertaining and stylish crime-thriller. It`s smart, funny, cool, thrilling and action-packed. An instant classic. A great and genuine surprise to watch. Forest Whitaker gives an extroadinary and compelling performance, one of his best performances ever, it stands wit his work in Bird and The Last King of Scottland. Director, Jim Jarmusch crafts his masterwork. A skillful and enthralling work of art thats handsomely shot, hypnotic and has a seductive rytham all of its own. One of the best hitman films to come along since The Professional.
Super Reviewer
½ September 7, 2012
Now Forest Whitaker isn't the kind of guy you would normally think of for a smart ice cool hitman flick. His big lumbering appearance and droopy eye always gives him the look of a bad guy or suit type, not some ninja like assassin.

But here we are in dare I say 'Leon' for a black audience? is that wrong of me? cos this sure as hell is what it is. Take the overall premise of 'Leon' and virtually copy it scene for scene and you have 'Ghost Dog' but with a nice samurai code twist.

This film is actually based on a very good French film called 'Le Samouraï' which in turn also probably influenced Besson for his New York based hitman classic. Its pretty fair to say when watching that this is heavily influenced by those said films, from the hit sequences to the little girl who 'Ghost Dog' befriends but doesn't train...although that is hinted at somewhat towards the end.

Personally I love this film, its could easily be a sequel to 'Leon' and moves just as sexually and gracefully including some excellent hit scenes, albeit a bit brief. The film is kinda slow and builds around 'GD' training in the art of samurai whilst living his simple life caring for pigeons. Your not really sure if your suppose to root for this guy either, he's not doing good stuff after all. He works for the mob and kills people, breaks into properties and steals cars pretty regularly, he doesn't kill innocents but nor does he care too much about them or their material possessions.

Trying not to mention other films too much here but when you see the American mobsters in this it rings so many bells. The bad guys are a classic stereotypical cliched lineup of fat, aging, balding, badly dressed 70's looking rejects that could of come from any well known mafia flick you've ever heard of. I loved how they looked and spoke in that typical Nu Joisey/Nu Yawk fashion with their big tinted shades, dated tracksuits or leather coats, absolutely perfect. You could almost think of these guys as a parody really. Almost caricatures and exactly how you expect Italian American hoods to look and act with the addition of great names like 'Handsome Frank' and the all too common names of Vinny, Ray and Louie.

The cast are familiar too, all the regular faces that normally play wheezing old fat mafioso's. Their boss is Henry Silva who is pretty much the perfect face for a bad guy, a mafia bad guy. The man is a character acting legend plus his face is evil looking with those sharp cheek bones and odd stretched wrinkle-less like skin complexion, no wonder he was in 'Dick Tracy'.

There isn't too much action here like I said but that isn't a problem really. The film moves slow just like its main player and the outcome is resolved quite quickly really. The Japanese filling throughout is a nice touch which is obviously there because of the French film it plays homage to but it neither hinders or helps really, its just nice little touches that are pleasant to view. End of the day the samurai code doesn't really effect the film much apart from what 'GD' allows to happen.

Didn't think the film needed the African American influence of rap music though, would of been nice without that, more unique really as the old gangster thing still looms somewhat. Still a unique film though can't dent that. For me the film is made with the stellar casting for the bad guys, they are really quite amusing, Whitaker does well also in his calm near silent role. A must see film if you like this kind of thing but just don't expect tonnes of action.
Super Reviewer
November 3, 2006
A solitary, bird loving hitman is targeted by his own employer but his code of honour prevents him from direct retaliation. Ghost Dog is probably Jim Jarmusch's most accessible film but is still a quirky and off beat affair that feels all the world like a Hip Hop version of a Takeshi Kitano gangster film. Forest Whitaker cuts an imposing figure who is like a modern day pigeon fancying Yojimbo who has chosen to live by the Samurai code in modern day America. It's a very low key film that combines amusingly oddball characters (especially the inept, bigoted and hypocritical "stupid f***ing white men" who clearly don't deserve his loyalty), black humour and understated violence to great effect. Add a soundtrack by the RZA that perfectly compliments the mood of the film and you have a rather unique gangster film that plays out a bit like Leon on valium. Which is a good thing.
Super Reviewer
½ October 27, 2011
Jarmusch's samurai/gangster featuring a soundtrack from The Rza. Though not on the same level as his other films, it is still a worthwhile watch.
Joel K.
Super Reviewer
October 27, 2011
Top Class. This film is amazingly uneventful, but still completely brilliant. Its a slow burner, but theres enough going to keep you watching. A perfect mix of the Samurai and Gangster genres, with a good gangster rap soundtrack to give it a unique atmosphere. The action seens aren't fast paced heart racers, but quiet slow movers, showing the main characters stealth technique. Not for everyone, but i liked it.
Super Reviewer
September 28, 2011
Jarmusch's compelling though curious urban poem, waist deep in a melange of the transplanted cultures of the United States, about honor, morality and purpose in the changing flux that is modern life. Instead of the white hat/black hat, good guy/ bad guy recognition motif, f'instance, Jarmusch updates with a "reads literature" versus a "watches cartoons" differentiation. Fun as well as surreal.
Keiko A. --Samurai--
Super Reviewer
July 16, 2011
Forest Whitaker as a modern day samurai? Well its a great homepage to many crime films of the 60s and somewhat 70s as well as unique blending of a crime thriller and a samurai movie. Interesting, weird themes and cinematics and engaging characters.

Still i will watch it again very soon the movie is worth watching at most.
Super Reviewer
½ February 27, 2007
A black hitman who thinks he's a samurai? Old italian mobsters who listen to rap music? None of this should work, and yet it does.
Super Reviewer
November 2, 2007
my favorite jarmusch by a long shot. gangsters and samurai: too fucking cool
Super Reviewer
June 16, 2007
I want to beat the living crap out of myself for not seeing this movie seven years earlier. This is one of the most amazing movies I've ever seen. The soundtrack is as awesome as the story. Ghost Dog is the fucking man!!!! He's like Terry Malloy, Leon and Kurosawa samurai all rolled into one. The exchanges between Ghost Dog and his best friend were hilarious as was the idiotic yet not completely inaccurate representation of the mob ("stupid fucking white men.") The scene with Ghost Dog and the hunters was phenomenal! My only gripes were the incredibly devoid explanation as to why The Mob was after Ghost Dog in the first place and the end, despite the fact I knew it had to go down that way. The second viewing didn't freak me out the way the first one did but still a solid movie. Highly recommended...
Super Reviewer
July 25, 2007
Forest Whitaker proves that he can be quite the badass (not that he wasn't a badass already). RZA's soundtrack and cameo were pretty cool, too. As were the French ice cream salesman and his interactions with Forest Whitaker (Ghost Dog).
Super Reviewer
April 10, 2007
Played out like a dull episode of the Sopranos, only more in the style of an average indie flick. It still had its qualities though that made it worth the watch. By that I'm mainly refering to Forest Whitaker, who carried the movie quite well on his shoulders. His character, altough perhaps not entirely believable, was both fascinating and complex, as in being a suburb samurai with as much philosophy to share as he has skills with a gun.

It surely wouldn't have hurt to throw in a better soundtrack though, because if there's one thing I really disliked about this movie it was the lifeless and often sleep-inducing music. The editing could have used a little brush-up as well, as it came off as a bit amateurish and sloppy at times. Thankfully, however, these are only minor flaws in an otherwise decent film. Just be warned that it's very slow-paced.
Super Reviewer
May 30, 2006
Ghost Dog: According to what one of the elders said, taking an enemy on the battlefield is like a hawk taking a bird. Even though it enters into the midst of a thousand of them, it gives no attention to any bird than the one it first marked.

An insightful story and one of my favorite movies, about a man who reads about and lives his life by the code of the samurai. He also happens to be a retainer for a member of an aging New Jersey organized crime syndicate and serves as a hit man, until something goes wrong.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day, when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day, without fail, one should consider himself as dead. This is the substance of the Way of the Samurai.

The character of Ghost Dog is very intriguing. In a normal world, this man is essentially a crazy person. He lives on the roof of a building, he practices the code of the samurai, and hangs around with pigeons. However, with this movie, the character is treated with grace and cool. He moves like a ghost, being noticed when he wants to be. Acts in violence only when the situation requires it. And is respected by most in various ways.

Samurai in Camouflage: Ghost Dog, power, equality.
Ghost Dog: Always see everything, my brother.

His only friend is a Haitian man who speaks French, neither person understands each other, but they still can relate to each other in their own way. During the film, Ghost Dog also befriends a little girl, wonderfully played by newbie at the time Camille Winbush, who shares a passion for reading.

Louie: Nothing seems to make sense anymore.

As the story goes on, Ghost Dog is conflicted from having to face the mob, who wants to have him killed, despite having remained a mysterious helper for them, and trying not to disappoint the relationship with Louie, the one he sees as his master.

Vinny: You know, Louie, there's one good thing about this Ghost Dog guy.
Louie: What's that, Vin?
Vinny: He's sending us out the old way. Like real fucking gangsters.

A very good character-crime-drama mixed with some action, humor, a great performance from Whitaker, and a great soundtrack by RZA who composed a flawless score, one of my favorites.

Sonny Valerio: Now is the time to tell us everything you know about this mysterious ghostlike untraceable fuckin' button man.

Being a Jim Jarmusch film, the film is slowly paced using fade out transitions, which helps in this case to reflects old samurai films and very effectively combines present times with the aspects of a samurai's life. It also shows the clash of different cultures in a number of ways: samurai and the mob, old systems and new changing of orders, and people's perception and people that wish to have a dedication to something in their lives.

Sonny Valerio: "If a warrior's head were to be suddenly cut off, he should still be able to perform one more action with certainty." What the fuck does that mean?
Ray Vargo: It's poetry. The poetry of war.

Among the number of repeated motifs and themes of the film, two worth mentioning are the passages of samurai code narrated throughout, each reflecting the state of Ghost Dog's character and the issues taking place in the plot. Also, the fact that the members of the mafia have an affinity for cartoons (now that's quirky), and each time one is shown, it reflects elements of the plot.

Ghost Dog: There is surely nothing other than the single purpose of the moment. A man's whole life is a succession of moment after moment. If one fully understands the present moment, there is nothing left to do, and nothing else to pursue.

This film is such a great combination of strange characters, modernized samurai philosophy, and settings, that I can't help but enjoy all aspects of it. Wonderful film.

Pearline: In the Kamigata area they have a sort of tiered lunchbox they use for a single day when flower viewing. Upon returning, they throw them away, trampling them underfoot. The end is important in all things.
Super Reviewer
October 13, 2007
Now that I understand it better, it's pretty good. Still, stars down for bad music and multiple slow scenes (even though slow scenes and Jim Jarmusch go together, at least in his other films we see Lance Hendrixson eating people, or Tom Waits insulting people).
Super Reviewer
November 24, 2007
"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is a quite unique movie. It tells the story of an African-American mafia hit-man in New York who lives by the rules of the Samurai, in simplicity and alone with his pigeons, he calls himself Ghost Dog and is always faithful to his master, a local mobster who has saved his life several years ago. When the daughter of the local mob boss witnesses one of Ghost Dog's hits, he must die himself. The first victims are his birds and in response, Ghost Dog goes right at his attackers. He is lethal, but does not want to harm his master or the young woman. And while his life is in constant danger, the only people he ever has contact with are a little girl, with whom he discusses books, and a Haitian ice cream man who only speaks French and doesn't understand a word of what Ghost Dog tells him.

I guess the best way to categorize this movie is to call it a mix of the movie "Léon", the Samurai code and hip-hop culture. Normally you would think that such a mix could never work, but this time it does. I admit that it certainly isn't a normal mix, but director Jim Jarmusch avoids the traps that would make this original and daring movie a complete waste of time and which would turn it into one unbelievable and unrealistic mess. I know it sounds strange, how can a movie that combines Italian, Japanese and hip-hop culture into one ever become one solid movie? Don't ask me, I don't even know how he came up with the idea, but it works and that's all that matters.

This movie has several strong points. One is the way everything is told and shown, which make this a sober, but powerful movie. Especially with the quotes that are taken from the Way of the Samurai and that are voiced by Forest Whitaker, a solid base is formed. This helps you to understand why the man does what he does, why he lives his life like that and why he will always respect his master. If this hadn't been in the movie, I would probably not have liked it a bit. The other strong point is the acting. The mobsters look a bit stereotypical, but are well portrayed by people like Cliff Gorman, John Tormey, Richard Portnow,... but the best performance definitely comes from Forest Whitaker. Normally Whitaker plays the role of a good guy, like for instance Jody in "The Crying Game" or Captain Ramey in "Phone Boot" and it has to be said, he really has some talent for that kind of roles. But, as he proves with this movie, he is capable of a lot more. He plays the role of the samurai hit man, doesn't look like he's fit for that role at all (at least, I would never think of him when it comes to that role), but does it really very well.

As a conclusion I would like to add that the sound track is also great. Normally I'm not too much a fan of hip hop in the movies, although I can appreciate it as a form of music on itself, but this time it really works. Add to this some nice acting, a cool and well-written story, some funny moments (like for instance a rapping mobster) and what you'll get is a movie that is fun and interesting to watch.
Super Reviewer
October 2, 2007
A very smooth movie ^_^
Super Reviewer
½ April 8, 2007
See mjgildea's review. It says everything I don't need too.
Super Reviewer
June 14, 2007
Iwas expecting a lot more from the title. Doesn't have a great deal of action and can be quite odd at times. The last 20mins of the film make up for it. If you like assassin films you will like this.
Super Reviewer
½ February 19, 2007
Good movie if a little slow in places
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