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The Last Samurai Review

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by Phil Hinton May 1, 2004

    The Last Samurai Review
    There's one thing you can't take away from Tom Cruise and that's the fact he has been a consistent A title actor for the last 15 years or so. Love him or loathe him he has developed into an actor who is not afraid to take on the challenge and to try something new. Not only does Cruise star in Samurai he also produces the picture, this gives you an idea of how hands on he likes to be with his projects.

    Set in the late 1800's Cruise plays Nathan Algren a Civil war hero and a soldier who feels he is dishonoured after the massacre of the Indian population. Working as a PR man for a gun manufacturer, Nathan is asked to meet with the Japanese shogun who offers him a year's salary to train the Japanese Imperial army. With nothing to lose, or for that matter to live for, he heads out to the east and begins the task of training the troops. Nathan wants to learn more about their enemy, an ancient civilisation called the Samurai who fight only with swords, not guns. It's not long before he gets his chance to put his army, who he argues are not ready, against the Samurai. After defeat of the Imperial army the leader of the Samurai, Katsumoto, takes Nathan as a hostage so he can learn more about him. Months pass and Nathan begins to appreciate the Samurai way of life, the discipline, the honour, the compassion and the way of the warrior. When the time comes for Nathan to return to his army he has second thoughts, will he go against the Samurai or fight for them?

    There is no doubting that this movie is epic, from the stunning cinematography to the beautiful score and the excellent acting performances, Samurai is a big screen movie. But it is also a Hollywood movie and the script has one or two faults that I just couldn't forget about. The Samurai are a dying race of warriors and are honourable people; the Government passes a law banning them from wearing their swords so they rebel. The Government want to crush the Samurai and are portrayed as evil so the audience sides with Katsumoto and Cruise. Now forgive me I know this is Hollywood, but I found this main premise to be shallow and insulting to me and no doubt most audiences. What about the fact that the Samurai in that time period were leaving their lords and becoming Ronin, hell bent on assassinating all westerners and Japanese officials and fighting for the imperial family to return as rulers?. No sign of this or other historical facts or Nathan's motives for joining the Samurai cause. He wanders around the village for a few months and thinks these fellows are jolly nice? Which brings me to the point about Katsumoto, he fights cultural changes and western ideals, yet he speaks perfect English and keeps Nathan alive, so when and where did he learn the language and I can't believe he keeps Nathan alive so he can learn about the enemy. And what does he learn about with Nathan, we don't see it, instead we see the Samurai train him and give him their secrets.

    I had to raise these points as they jarred my enjoyment of the movie, I just felt more detail on the two men's plight could have been covered and historical facts given more screen time. Instead we have the usual Hollywood sheen on history and a plot that is easy to work out after 10 minutes of screen time. Don't get me wrong though, Samurai is a visually stunning enjoyable pop corn romp, with excellent sword play and battle scenes, stunning scenery and authentic costumes, just don't think too much about the motives or you will end up with the same questions as me.