Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (15)

Review by Jack Foley

DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Theatrical trailer; Outtakes.

THE hitman enjoyed something of a renaissance in 1999, judging by the likes of Leon and Grosse Pointe Blank - and Jim Jarmusch's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai sat worthily alongside the former two as an interesting variation on a well-used theme.

Forest Whitaker stars as the assassin of the title, a ghost-like contract killer for the Mob who lives on a rooftop surrounded by pigeons and who meticulously follows the Samurai code.

When a contract goes wrong - he is spotted by the daughter of one of the Mob bosses - the Mafia turn on the loner and attempt to wipe him out without reckoning on how he will fight back.

By taking a familiar premise and infusing it with some typically offbeat moments and quirky characters, Jarmusch has delivered a highly efficient picture which never becomes boring or routine in the slightest.

By mixing elements of Mob culture, hip-hop flicks and the Samurai way of life, the director manages to breathe new life into a genre which was in danger of becoming stagnant - squarely hitting the target with each idiosyncratic moment.

Whitaker shines as a result, creating a memorable loner whose existence is enlivened only by his dealings with Camille Winbush's young book-lover or Isaach de Bankole's delightful French speaking ice-cream salesman, who counts Ghost Dog as his best friend even though the two do not share a common language.

The Mobsters, also, are a wildly amusing bunch prone to watching cartoons in their spare time, while bickering over the difficulty of tracing their virtually invisible foe. Jarmusch's choice of actor is also first class, bringing in the likes of Henry Silva (The Manchurian Candidate), Cliff Gorman (Hoffa) and John Tormey to add some welcome familiarity to their roles.

If Ghost Dog feels a little slow in places, then this too seems deliberate, allowing the audience to gain some fascinating insights into the differing cultures while more than delivering on the action front when the time comes for Ghost Dog to ply his trade.

Like its central character, Ghost Dog seems destined to remain largely out of sight from mainstream audiences, but it is certainly worth searching out because it has so very much to offer. Fans of the genre will not be disappointed.