Edward Zwick is a director who has had a major fall from grace in the last decade and a half. He went from directing deeply philosophical, drama films about flawed characters and troubled motivations to films such as Love & Other Drugs and Jack Reacher: Never Go Back.
You could say that it has been a bumpy ride for the Blood Diamond filmmaker, yet even when looking into the catalogue of films he has made over the years, The Last Samurai stands out. Why is a film so original, mediocre and beautiful such a fascinating creation for both fans and critics? This is a review of The Last Samurai.
How to Stream or Download The Last Samurai
You can stream it or you can download The Last Samurai from a digital store. Click on the Download button at the end of the review and choose a store you like. For other films with Tom Cruise, check out also Top Gun (1986), Rain Man (1988), Interview with the Vampire (1994), Mission Impossible (1996), or War of the Worlds (2005).
The Movie Review
The story takes place in 1876, following the U.S. Army Captain Nathan Algren, who has turned into an alcoholic, traumatized by his past and the atrocities that he had to commit during the American Indian Colonization Wars. He is approached by Colonel Bagley, his former commanding officer with an offer to train and tutor a newly created Japanese Imperial Army.
They intend to use these soldiers to suppress a rebellion in progress against Japan’s New Emperor by the Samurai. The Government of Japan and the United States are declaring the extinction of the Samurai to transform it into a Westernized land. However, upon encountering the Samurai in person, Algren finds himself at a crossroads between two worlds and two eras, unable to judge whether he’s on the right side.
In all honesty, this is an extremely ambitious film with a hugely ambitious script. It’s a long film too, stretching out for 2 and a half hours. The length of the film is necessary though, as it is a character study that takes its time with the protagonist played by Tom Cruise.
You see, Algren is a character put at crossroads between his world and a historically rich, culturally potent and traditional society. He doesn’t really understand the Samurai, and yet for some reason, his past trauma and regrets are what make him side with their hopeless rebellion.
The film uses those 2 and a half hours carefully examining his mindset and justifying Algren’s decisions.
Of course, Algren wouldn’t be such a powerful character if it wasn’t for the stellar performance from Tom Cruise himself. He’s at his best when he’s playing a character either completely neurotic, completely chaotic or 100% stoic. It’s just his thing.
Though the one thing that I can’t really appreciate this film for is the direction itself, which is anything but stellar.
There are so many missed opportunities within the film’s main script, with corny dialogue etched in here and there along the lines of poorly paced action sequences and badly directed dramatic scenes which should have affected me more yet somehow managed to not even graze my attention span.
It’s a hard thing to dislike this film, but it’s even harder to like it, as there are just so many good aspects of it bogged down by the bad. The cinematography for the film is fantastic, while I wouldn’t call it unique or breath-taking, it really is good and does exactly what it tries to achieve.
The light color tones, the washed out atmosphere on screen and the dull and drab clothing also make for a great thematic reference to the film’s narrative itself. Yet it fails to be good in the one department it absolutely should never have failed in, the narrative itself.
The script is heartbreaking, I watched the film first and then chose to give the script a read, and I felt like it required a film which focused none at all at the epic part of it all, but rather the somber drama and the main dilemma of its main protagonist and side characters.
I feel as if The Last Samurai was one of the biggest wasted opportunities in the world of cinema. It’s a film that could have showcased how damaging Westernization had gotten for some of the world’s most significant cultures, by placing a Western character at the heart of it all.
Yet it only manages to be a film that showcases the epic battles, constant dilemmas and regrets through the eyes of its protagonist, who turns out to be not very likeable in the long run once you get to know him.
It isn’t a bad film in any capacity, it’s quite above average as it stands. However, it’s one of Hollywood’s biggest mistakes.