Review by: Jack Foley | Rating:
DVD SPECIAL FEATURES: Audio commentary by Edward Zwick; Tom
Cruise: A Warrior's Journey; Making an Epic: A Conversation with
Edward Zwick and Tom Cruise; Edward Zwick: Director's Video Journal;
From Soldier to Samurai: The Weapons; Imperial Army Basic Training;
Silk and Armor: Costume Design; A World of Detail: Production
Design with Lilly Kilvert; Creating Digital Reality; Additional
TWO classic genres collide in spectacular fashion in The Last
Samurai, Edward Zwicks handsome homage to the likes of Akira
Kurosawas The Seven Samurai, and westerns such as Dances
Tom Cruise stars as Captain Nathan Algren, a disillusioned Civil
War hero, whose faith in himself and the army he used to serve,
has deserted him, amid a change in military focus and attitude.
Haunted by the ghosts of past deeds and atrocities, he reluctantly
agrees to travel to Japan, to help bring about an end to the Samurai,
who are threatening to undermine the countrys Westernisation,
only to find himself captured, taken prisoner and unexpectedly
impressed and influenced by his enemys ancient culture.
The friendship he subsequently forms with Ken Watanabes
legendary Samurai leader, Katsumoto, quickly places him at odds
with his own culture, and eventually compels him to make a stand
for the honourable traditions of a rapidly disappearing way of
Zwicks movie is very much a labour of love and its many
influences serve to ensure that the story retains an old-fashioned
feel throughout. And while there are crowd-pleasing moments, courtesy
of the odd twirl of a Samurai-sword, or the sight of a heavily-scarred
Cruise bathing, Zwick remains careful not to dishonour or neglect
The film is rich in detail and visually stunning, yet as big
as some of the set pieces become, it remains, at its heart, a
human story, driven by two very distinct characters.
Cruise, who continues to take risks as an actor, once again impresses
as the battle-scarred soldier, who embraces the opportunity to
regain his honour, and atone for past sins, in suitably heartfelt
fashion, while his relationship with Katsumoto is pitched in such
a way that it never threatens to hog the limelight, allowing Watanabe
the time and space to deliver an equally poignant turn as the
proud leader who is forced to watch, helplessly, as the world
he knows and loves disintegrates around him.
It is a relationship made all the more affecting by the scale
of the battles, which never lose sight of the human cost involved,
despite working on the grandest visual scale.
Zwick, too, deserves credit for mixing things up so well, for
this is a two and a half hour movie which seldom feels its length,
and which acts as a pertinent reminder of traditional values over
This is the type of movie which harks back to the days of both
The Magnificent Seven and The Seven Samurai, as well as more revisionist
fare such as Costners Dances With Wolves, while also ensuring
that the Samurai sword remains the weapon of choice in terms of
modern cinema culture (a la Kill
Many of its themes remain timeless, too, with the US treatment
of the Samurai serving as a neat metaphor for its treatment of
the native American Indians, as well as being applicable to current
world events, at a time when many people continue to disagree
with its foreign policy.
Zwick is no stranger to epic movie-making, of course, having
helmed the Oscar-winning Glory, but his film remains a lovingly
crafted, fitting tribute to those it seeks to honour, as well
as a thoughtful, thrilling and deeply moving piece of cinema.