Saturday, December 06, 2003

The Last Samurai (IMDB) (Netflix)
As a former captain in the post-U.S. Civil War army, Tom Cruise can barely live with himself. He was a hero in the war, then part of the brutal campaign against Native Americans in the West. Down on his guilt-permeated, self-destructive luck, he's lured to Japan to train their army against the Samurai, who are waging their own rebellion against modernity. Things don't go as planned, however, and Cruise quickly finds himself on the wrong side. Or maybe the right one. It's equal parts Lawrence of Arabia and Stockholm Syndrome, with a dash of Gaijin Gets a Kimono.

Apparently it's also an epic, because of the two hour and twenty-four minutes running time (don't count on the usual 15 minutes of commericals and previews at the local cineplex—get there promptly, because they might be squeezing in an extra showing). The noble intent is there, the battle scenes are grand, the bridge is built across the cultural divide. Cruise is his typical affable/intense self, Ken Watanabe is pure studliness as the samurai leader and all his warriors look tres chic in their armor (which will all very soon appear in a Paris fashion show). Battle has seldom been more horrific or beautifully photographed.

The audience was entertained, and so was I, but without being particularly moved.