The Last Samurai (2003)


A disillusioned cavalry officer is ordered to train an army to fight against a rebellious samurai in Japan, only to be captured and come to respect his erstwhile foe.

This film is exactly what I was expecting from a typical Hollywood historical epic. Tom Cruise is troubled by clumsy flashbacks of an atrocity which now shapes his entire personality and sets off to do his duty, only to learn to admire the noble savages while they learn in turn from his pig-headed self-destructiveness and provide him with a handily widowed village babe and surrogate family. He then switches sides leading to the wobbly lower-lip inducing heroic final battle after which an American invents modern Japan. The script is the usual formulaic nonsense you’d expect and Cruise shouts, gets all dewy-eyed and moons over doe-eyed Japanese beauties on cue, although I’d have to say he does not look too out of place with a katana in his hand. Despite the cliche-riddled script, there is enough action and spectacle to maintain the interest, with the battle sequences as well staged as you’d expect but it is the smaller scale fight sequences that are the most impressive, particularly the bonding bloodshed Tom and Ken share when dealing with a cadre of attacking ninjas. In fact it falls to Ken Watanabe to provide the real meat of the story and he brings an intensity to his character that is sorely lacking from the rest of the cast.

The Last Samurai is a serviceable Hollywood blockbuster that’s undemanding yet entertaining enough but I couldn’t help thinking that it would have been a much better film if Cruise and his character weren’t actually in it.



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