Ryan's Review of The Last Samurai
The Last Samurai(2003)
Not a full review, exams and all, but here we go:
Tom Cruise and Edward Zwick clearly had honorable intentions to treat the material and the story right here. You can feel that. There's a spirit of appreciation and wonderment on screen. They wanted to do this up right. Unfortunately, in their minds, "doing it up right" apparently meant watering down themes, simplifying characters and plot points, mythologizing chaotically, and repeatedly stating the already-obvious. Zwick has the audience [b]so[/b] tightly in his hand, leading them along at every single step, you start to feel sore.
The film is far too preachy and condescending to let the audience make up its own mind about damn near anything. Timothy Spall, a fine actor, has the ridiculous role of a man named "Exposition," or thereabouts, given his penchant for rote voiceovers and "tell me again" lines of dialogue. Cruise himself acquits himself about as well as he can, and he pulls off a few game moments, though the rest of his performance rings rather hollow AND rather showy, a feat indeed worthy of his stature..
The film is never anything less than gorgeous to look at and listen to, given John Toll's always-enjoyable cinematography, excellent art direction and costume design, and Zimmer's unusual score. Other than the expected technical burnish, what else is left? Well, Ken Watanabe shoves Cruise off the scene with a mere raise of the eyebrow. He's outstanding in a sticky role. The requisite romance, stunningly enough, is outstanding. Nary a moment of overt action is to be had, intead relying on those furtive slips of the eyes and wary dialogue. I wish the rest of the film was as subtle about things as it was with the central romance. Alas, it just ain't.
There are moments of stunning audacity. The already infamous scene where Cruise fights a samurai with a practice-stick, gets knocked on his tufted ass, and then repeats ad infinitum is just stunning in its temerity to ask for our obliging support of Cruise's "indefatigable" character. We are meant to boo-hiss the samurai for his savageness, though he was completely in the right. The movie is full of these moments. Little spots where the director sticks his giant head straight into the room, slaps you across the face, and shouts out the motivation and reactions that he expects from his audience.
Still, you can see from the rating that this is a POSITIVE review. Funny, huh? I suppose there's enough here for me to recommend it, but by the skin of its freaking teeth.
P.S. Oh by the way, during the climax, there is (nearly literally) an uninterrupted scene of slow motion that lasts for about ten minutes. If you need a nap, take one. When you wake up, the horses will still be charging and the samurai will still be screaming. No big loss.