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The Last Samurai
Edward Zwick
Tom Cruise, Timothy Spall, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Hiroyuki Sanada, Koyuki
154 min.


Twenty minutes in to the Last Samurai I was already picking out which words would make for the scathingest review. Then something remarkable happened. All of a sudden, the awful dialogue (courtesy of John Logan (Gladiator, Star Trek: Nemesis, Bats)) becomes Japanese. Most of the rest of the movie is either in Japanese or spoken in broken English by Japanese actors. And they've got a good batch of Japanese actors to fill those roles. Ken Watanabe was deserving of his Best Supporting Actor nomination. Tom Cruise isn't even half bad when put in this context.

Even without the dialogue, though, the film does find ways to be bad. The battle sequences, while otherwise competently executed (and the best part of the movie), display the director's troubling fondness of slow-motion. However, after the first half hour grates past assaulting not merely the eyes, the sensibilities and the intellect but every aspect of your humanity which might concievably separate us from the animals (with the possible exception of tool use which doesn't really enter into it), the good outweighs the bad enough to put this on par with Master and Commander. By the end of the sequence in which Ken Watanabe is attacked by an army of ninjas jumping through walls Nintendo-style ("fucking ninjas," quips Baron), you find yourself growing endeared to Samurai (and its ninjas). The love scene in which Tom Cruise is dressed in the armor of a Samurai he killed by the Samurai's widow is so surprisingly subtle that its a disappointment when they actually kiss at the end of it.

Its at the second-run theaters now, and well worth the two dollars. The Last Samurai is no Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, but then Tom Cruise is no David Bowie. It could have used a weepy Bon Jovi power-ballad over the closing credits, though. Someone really dropped the ball on that.

Pat Jackson