The Last Samurai

The Last Samurai
Released: 15 January 2004
Cast: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, William Atherton, Billy Connolly, Koyuki, Tony Goldwyn, Timothy Spall
Director: Edward Zwick
Genre: Drama/Action/War/Adventure
Rated: MA 15+
Running Time: 153 minutes

*** Nominated for 4 Academy Awards ***
Best Supporting Actor - Ken Watanabe
Best Art Direction
Best Costume Design
Best Sound Mixing

*** Nominated for 3 Golden Globes ***
Best Actor - Tom Cruise
Best Supporting Actor - Ken Watanabe
Best Original Score

Set in the late 1870s, this epic film depicts the beginnings of the modernization of Japan, as the island nation evolved past a feudal society, as symbolized by the eradication of the samurai way of life. We see all this happen from the point of view of an alcoholic Civil War veteran turned Winchester guns spokesman, Captain Woodrow Algren (Tom Cruise), who arrives in Japan to train the troops of the emperor, Meiji, as part of a break away from the long-held tradition of relying on employed samurai warriors to protect territories, as the emperor's new army prepares to wipe out the remaining samurai warriors. When Algren is injured in combat and captured by the samurai, he learns about their warrior honor code from their leader, Katsumoto, which forces him to decide which side of the conflict he actually wants to be on.

My Verdict:
It was with apprehension that I saw The Last Samurai. When it had finished, I was so glad I had seen it and disappointed in my own self-doubt that this was going to be just another Tom Cruise vehicle. Sure enough, Cruise dominates the screen time, but he does it so well that all is quickly forgiven. Bear in mind also, that this is a fictional character and so there are going to be historical errors but these too are forgiven because of the enormity of the movie.

As Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is battling his demons with the help of alcohol, he is summoned to do a job in Japan. He sees this as a way to make some quick, easy money and plunges head first without thinking. He soon discovers that the task is going to take longer than anticipated but time is something that is running out. He is captured and kept so that he can teach Katsumoto (a very impressive Ken Watanabe) the ways of the Americans and the Western world. The rest of the movie involves the process of each main character learning about each other and their cultures, planning an assault and the ultimate battle to save their honour.

The scenery is superb, the costumes resplendent, the attention to detail is abundant and these are all put together to create a true epic movie that epitomises the differences between cultures and our understanding of the values we uphold and why we uphold them. The Last Samurai is more than just another Tom Cruise movie. See it to find out why.

- Christina Bruce