Classic Review – The Last Samurai (2003)

Title – The Last Samurai (2003) 

Director – Edward Zwick (Glory) 

Cast – Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall, Hiroyuki Sanada

Plot – Enlisted by the Japanese emperor to help aid his war efforts against the countries last remaining samurai warriors, US Army Captain turned military adviser Nathan Algren (Cruise) is captured by samurai leader Katsumoto (Watanabe) and taken to his village, a village that will open Algren’s eyes to the way of the samurai as well as a way to escape his inner demons from past wars.   

“I think a man does what he can, until his destiny is revealed”

Review by Eddie on 25/10/2021

Whether it’s the Tom Cruise factor or the potential claims naysayers would have against the film for supposed whitewashing (which I don’t believe this film is guilty of), The Last Samurai faced a collection of high praise and ho-hum receptions upon release in 2003 to become a film both adored and underappreciated but near 20 years on from its Oscar nominated/box office smashing run, Edward Zwick’s sumptuous epic stands the tests of time to remain one of Cruise’s greatest pieces of work. 

Filmed in the stunning locales of New Zealand that made for a great stand in for the Japanese setting of the film, Samurai is a feast for the eyes as well as the heart as we follow Cruise’s tormented ex-captain turned military adviser Nathan Algren as he ventures to Japan to help the emperor train his army in modern warfare with aims of defeating the countries last remaining samurai leader Katsumoto, of whom Algren finds himself taken in by after a battle fails to go to plan. 

In the eyes of many and in many ways rightfully so, what follows as Algren learns to conquer his demons as well as find love for the samurai way of life is the type of Hollywood set-up we’ve seen countless times before but the way in which Zwick and his cast and crew bring this touching tale too the big screen is filled with so much beauty and respect for the history of the samurai people’s that if you put your prejudices aside, Samurai will enrapture you within its epic tale of fighting for ones honor and learning to live a life worth living. 

Renowned for his epic’s in Hollywood, Zwick’s efforts with Civil War themed Glory and family drama Legends of the Fall deservedly earned him his reputation as one of the best directors of rousing industry products but Samurai remains his crowning achievement, as he managed to draw out top-quality performances from his two leading men, with Cruise’s great turn overshadowed by Ken Watanabe’s Oscar nominated English language debut as Katsumoto, a man of wisdom and spirit in an age where his customs are no longer respected, while the likes of composer Hans Zimmer and D.O.P John Toll do fantastic work in helping to bring Zwick’s vision to life. 

There are no surprises as to where Samurai’s tale is taking us with Algren’s journey back to the light following a path laid out very early on as he and Katsumoto refuse to lay down arms against an ever growing army and hatred swelling against them but that doesn’t stop Samurai from a moving and unforgettable final stand that ensures the time we have spent with Zwick’s heartfelt tale will be one that lingers long in the memory. 

Final Say – 

Undervalued by industry pundits, The Last Samurai is the finest piece of work director Edward Zwick has put together as well as one of Tom Cruise’s greatest acting feats alongside a never better Ken Watanabe. A Hollywood epic for the ages that deserves your reevaluation or first time attention.  

5 muddy pairs of boots out of 5  

4 responses to “Classic Review – The Last Samurai (2003)

  1. Very nice review ! I saw the film once I think but that was a long time ago. I remember the western style of Zwick, mixing with the chambara tradition. That’s a good job and very pleasant to watch. You make me want to see it again.

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