Written By: John Logan & Marshall Herskovitz & Edward Zwick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly,
Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki, Shichinosuke Nakamura, Shun Sugata,
Seizo Fukumoto, Masato Harada, Shin Koyamada
MPAA: Rated R for strong violence and battle sequences.
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The time is 1877. The place, Japan. Tom Cruise stars as Nathan Algren, a former U.S. cavalryman turned firearms pitchman. Capitalizing on his heroic reputation, he accepts an assignment to train the Japanese military in the ways of American warfare. It seems that the Japanese government is in need of advisors, and is willing to pay handsomely for them. Little do they know that Captain Algren is tormented by a violent past. Can a once fearsome warrior restore honor to himself, and finally be at peace with his inner demons?
Did I mention that this movie stars Tom Cruise? Just checking. I wouldn't want to give anyone the wrong idea. The Last Samurai is, above all else, a Tom Cruise action movie. It's Top Shogun. It's Mission: Inposhiburu. It's Daimyo's of Thunder. Of course, The Last Samurai is also a drama. How could I tell? Tom Cruise keeps from grinning throughout most of the movie! He must have undergone extensive training to have accomplished that. Unfortunately, this leaves Cruise with only two other facial expressions to work with; intense and in pain. True to form, Cruise never brings anything to the character of Captain Algren other than himself. Perhaps that's a good thing.
But enough about Tom Cruise. Let's talk about Kevin Costner for a minute. Why? Because The Last Samurai is actually just a pale copy of his film, Dances With Wolves. Native Americans have been replaced with Japanese Samurai, and Costner has been replaced by that other guy. Aside from that, it's basically the same plot.
Where The Last Samurai falls flat in its dramatic efforts is near the end of the film. After a ham-fisted rescue attempt that is played mostly for laughs, the story soon degenerates into poorly executed Hollywood-pleasing gibberish, including a clumsy speech by Japanese Emperor Meiji, that, had it been said half-an-hour earlier in the film, would have saved everyone involved a lot of trouble.
None of this, however, changes the fact that The Last Samurai still manages to be very entertaining on a purely escapist level. Sure, it's historically and emotionally impaired, but hey, depth isn't everything. As an epic action film, The Last Samurai does a fine job. It has plenty of Samurai swordplay, as well as a couple grand battle sequences. The results are fun, if not fundamental. The best part is that people may be inspired to learn more about Samurai. Samurai are cool. And, lest we forget, so is Tom Cruise!