*** Official THE LAST SAMURAI Review Thread

Discussion in 'Movies' started by Dalton, Nov 29, 2003.

  1. Dalton

    Dalton Screenwriter

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    Caught the sneak peek tonight and i must say this was an excellent movie. Tom Cruise was exceptional as was the entire cast. Pacing was great, the 2.5 hrs flew by. A solid story with some great action sequences. Theater was sold out and audience reaction was positive. All in all i look forward to seeing it again!
    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  2. Robert Crawford

    Robert Crawford Moderator
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    This thread is now the Official Review Thread for "The Last Samurai". Please post all HTF member reviews in this thread.

    Any other comments, links to other reviews, or discussion items will be deleted from this thread without warning!

    If you need to discuss those type of issues then I have designated an Official Discussion Thread.



    Crawdaddy
     
  3. Arman

    Arman Screenwriter

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    We also just finished watching (rare advance screening attendance for us) this gorgeous and marvelous modern "Kurosawan" epic film. I did not really expect this film to be that good or be blown away by it. Anyway, all I can briefly say is, Russel Crowe and his mighty team for the Master & Commander: The Far Side of The World should be very scared of this film (re: getting the Oscar epic votes/recognition).

    As of now, The Last Samurai gets at least an A from me. (Oh well, let's wait and see and give me a little more time, if this film will hold it's power in my mind or if a downgrade is possible.)
     
  4. TerryRL

    TerryRL Producer

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    I also caught an advance screening and, as Arman said above, "The Last Samurai" is very much a modern day version of a Kurosawa epic. Tom Cruise does a very solid job of acting, but it's the magnificent performance of Ken Watanabe as Katsumoto that steals the show.

    I was completely blown away and I wouldn't be surprised if 'Samurai' gets some serious Oscar consideration. Especially for Watanabe's performances as well as the amazing cinematography by John Toll.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  5. Phil Florian

    Phil Florian Screenwriter

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    I saw this at a preview screening and while I really enjoyed a good portion of the film, I also found it very standard Hollywood fare and somewhat predictable. The writers and director clearly set up "bits" that you know will be resolved and how they will be resolved without a lot of surprise or heart behind it. I do agree that Ken Watanabe was very enjoyable and held the screen with a magenetic presence. In fact, a lot of the supporting characters were nice but again were stereotypes to me. The silent body guard...will he sacrifice himself for the hero? The woman...will the hero get her in the end? The willful rival...will they become friends in the end? Will the hero vanquish the villian on the field of battle as he promised in the beginning? If you don't know the answers to these, then you need to see more screenwriting by coloring in numbers. To compare this to Kurosawa is simply going too far. Sure, it was set in Japan and sure it had Samurai in it. It had sweeping battle scenes (good, actually) but that isn't what made Kurosawa's films magic. It isn't the sweeping battles that Kurosawa was a real genius at, it was the quiet and smaller moments of his characters. The newly disguised thief in "Kagemushu" sitting as Warlord before his staff for the first time. The fool and his king (as it were) wandering the Japanese countryside. These are the moments that are memorable and powerful and were missing in "Last Samurai." The scenes that I wanted to see pop were the verbal sparring between Watanabe and Cruise but these turned out to be distractions between the accepted method of montage to show the passage of time. Lastly, I think the director needed to cut some. The last battle, while it opened well, went on beyond the point it was making and its ending began the trip to the unlikely and preachy epilogue.

    I would still see it again, if only for the cinematography and some of the well done scenes, but to put this as an epic in the mold of Kurosawa is either blowing Zwick up to a new level (unlikely, even though I like his stuff) or reducing the memory of Kurosawa. I think Ebert put it best when he said this was "an intelligent action movie." That describes it much better.


    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Phil
     
  6. Derek Faber

    Derek Faber Stunt Coordinator

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    I see this movie more as Cruise's attempt at making his DANCES WITH WOLVES than trying a modern Kurosawa film. The comparisons are there; a civil war hero sent to far away land, has an initial culture clash with the people but begins to become interested and ends up embracing the foriegn culture. Not to mention the romance aspect.

    It is not as good as DWW but is still a very good film. Ken Watanabe stole every scene he was in and was to me the central figure of the film. The entire cast was great outside of the villians which never seemed truly menacing.

    The action was wonderfully staged without being too gruesome or too choreographed.

    To me the cinematography was the best thing about the movie, when you first see the samurai, well, it was truly a sight to behold.

    Zwick has made a great film, not his best, GLORY still sits atop his resume, but it's his best film since then. See this movie, it is worth every penny.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] /[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  7. Patrick Sun

    Patrick Sun Studio Mogul

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    I had forgotten that Edward Zwick directed this film, and as the film unfolded, and ended, and when the credits started rolling, and I figured out it was Zwick directing the film, I understood why the film is good at tugging at the heartstrings that deal with honor, family, belonging, community, love and respect on the canvass of history at a time where the passing of the torch in Japan from its ancient ways to the newer, western, modern ways of the world as a new 20th century approached. Zwick and familiar co-hort, Marshall Herskovitz, brought us "Thirty-Something" and "Once and Again" on TV. Both shows were fine at created human characters within melodrama. The same is true in Zwick's other films, especially "Legends of the Fall" and "Glory", and Zwick's sensibiities at the human element of the struggle for Japan finding its way in the new world show through very well.

    So with "The Last Samurai" we get a story that unfolds at its own pace, never hurrying, never rushing, always keeping to the beat of a captured American captain's heart, who's come to Japan to train the Japanese soldiers in the ways of western weapons/guns/cannons/etc in warfare, but discovers a people and their traditions that he can comfortably grasp as his own because his former traditions have left him with pain in his soul as an American officer in the military commanded to do heinous things in service to his country.

    The parallels to "Dances with Wolves" can be made, though the exploration of the culture of the Japanese and the diminishing breed known as Samurai at this crucial time in Japan's history set it apart from "Dances with Wolves" and does engage the viewer to soak in the traditions of the Samurai, and its impact on family.

    Tom Cruise carries the film, but he has much help with Ken Watanabe as the leader of the Samurai. They come to share a deep mutual respect for one another and their destinies intertwine once they are introduced to each other under a stressful situation.

    Oh yeah, look for a nod to one of Tom Cruise's earliest, and most famous scenes of his career:

    a la Risky Business and him dancing around in his house alone.

    For a 2.5 hour film, rarely does it drag at all, so I was mostly entertained, and would recommend it.

    I give it 3.5 stars or a grade of B+.
     
  8. Steve_Tk

    Steve_Tk Cinematographer

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    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] /[​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    I'd rate this up there right behind Braveheart. The movie was fantastic. After it was over I asked how long it was and was surprised at the length, the time flew by. I wouldn't be surprised if this took the LOTR's oscar nod away. Up until this I figured there would be no competition for ROTK at all.
     
  9. Scott Weinberg

    Scott Weinberg Lead Actor

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    The Last Samurai [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG] out of 5

    Of course the whole "stranger in a strange land who learns to embrace and eventually defend his newly adopted homeland" concept is not a particularly new or unique one. Kevin Costner won a boatload of Oscars for his politically topical Dances with Wolves several years back, and Edward Zwick told the tale in his fantastic Civil War movie Glory. So learning that similar ground is covered once again in Zwick's The Last Samurai may be a bit disappointing to moviegoers looking for something different from their "fictionally historical action epic" - but it shouldn't. The Last Samurai is a majestic and rousing adventure and it's easily one of this year's best "Grown-Ups" movies.

    Sometimes a film needn't be wholly original to earn praise. In Modern Hollywood, it's impressive enough when a group of filmmakers can polish off a well-traveled plotline and still succeed thanks to the age-old tools of the trade: a smart screenplay, a handful of excellent acting performances, and a director fully confident that he can breathe some new life into a potentially familiar tale.

    Quietly and without all that much attention, director Edward Zwick has become the leading supplier of quality epics and intelligent action, able to produce films that incite emotion without overt manipulation and action sequences that succeed because of the strength of the characters and not the indulgence of explosions.

    The year is 1876 and war hero Nathan Algren has fallen on rough times. Wholly reliant on alcohol to soothe his battlefield scars, Algren has become a merchandising tool for a gun manufacturer. Wallowing in his drunkenness and haunted by the atrocious acts he's committed in battle, Algren earns a chance at redemption...or, at the very least, a paid vacation very far away from the U.S.

    It seems that the Japanese government is finally gearing up to join the modern world, and their goal is to hire warfare experts from around the globe in an effort to rid the Japanese countryside of the last remaining Samurai warriors. That's not to say that the Samurai are necessarily the "villains", but that they're a relic of the old-school ways that the current regime would like to see extinct.

    Although initially hired to help defeat the Samurai scourge, Algren is promptly defeated in battle and taken as prisoner by the very cadre he's been hired to help exterminate. By this point, you clearly know where the movie's headed: Algren becomes enamored with the Samurai and their codes of honor and before too long must choose which side he'll be fighting for: the old-fangled honor or the unstoppably modern.

    So the backbone of the narrative is somewhat familiar, yet very few films have bothered to tell a respectable story about who the Samurai actually were. So this new setting affords us a new sort of warrior, and Zwick's film revels in its lush Japanese locales, its attitudes and (most excitingly) its method of battle.

    Label The Last Samurai "a Tom Cruise" flick and you'll be missing out. Sure, the mega-star looks great (even when bloodied and nasty) and gets to assume a cocksure heroism at just about every turn...but damn if Cruise doesn't actually deliver one his best performances to date. In most of his films, one feels that they're seeing "Tom Cruise, lawyer" or "Tom Cruise, sensitive sports agent," whereas here the guy actually disappears into the role. Or he comes as close to disappearing as the world's most popular movie star actually can.

    Cruise acquits himself exceedingly well, but the strength of The Last Samurai (no, not the battle scenes; I'm getting to those) lies in its supporting cast. Colorful character actors like Timothy Spall, William Atherton, Billy Connolly and (especially) Tony Goldwyn capably buoy any dialogue scene that doesn't have Tom Cruise as its center of attention...and then there's the astoundingly commanding performance of Ken Watanabe. As the deeply honorable leader of the Samurai clan, Watanabe starts out as a stone-faced adversary and slowly warms into a confused and entirely sympathetic warrior who feels betrayed by his country's sudden disdain for tradition. It may be a long shot, but you'll hear some loud cheering from my corner of the globe should Watanabe earn himself an Oscar nomination for his work here.

    So yes: The Last Samurai is an epic both involving to the brain and dazzling to the eyes, laden with excellent performances and featuring a screenplay that skirts familiarity and offers a compelling tale. That's all fine and good. But what about the ACTION? Sure, drama can do a whole lot...but people like big flashy battle sequences, clanging sword-fights and battlefield heroics.

    This movie's got a whole lot of that stuff. A catalog of the individual action bits is entirely unnecessary; suffice to say that the second and third act of The Last Samurai are laden with enough "good stuff" to fill the next two Jerry Bruckheimer movies. (Only this one has characters with some depth.) There's the "ooh, that was neat" sort of action, the "whoa, that's huge" sort of spectacle, and (most importantly) the "oh no" sort of drama that only occurs in war epics with sincere hearts.

    And that's why The Last Samurai succeeds; it's sincere and respectful to its subject matter while delivering a rousing adventure tale...wrapped up in that comfy old Redemption Movie we all love so much.

    And the extensive battles are gonna blow you away.
     
  10. Michael Douglas

    Michael Douglas Stunt Coordinator

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    This was a great movie with another solid performance by Cruise (who often doesn't get his due credit, unfortunately, for the simple reason that he's the biggest movie star in the world).

    I am amazed by all the Dances With Wolves comparisons, especially when Lawrence of Arabia is nowhere to be seen in the same criqitue.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  11. Edwin Pereyra

    Edwin Pereyra Producer

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    For every step forward that Edward Zwick take with The Last Samurai he also takes a step back in the area of familiarity and clichés. No one will doubt that the film excels in just about every technical aspect of filmmaking – cinematography, period detail, set design, sweeping landscapes and costumes.

    Thematically though, one might wonder why we are seeing Dances With Wolves, this time set in Japan with an added Eastern philosophy as a twist. Then, there’s Hans Zimmer’s score that plays at the very opportune time meant to tug at the audience’s heartstrings. There is also an overabundance of slow motion and last stand heroics that make the film’s emotional impact planned with precision rather than unexpected and natural.

    The Last Samurai is one of this year’s beautifully made film with an eye towards technical detail and mastery. The acting of Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe is at the good side. It is a samurai film intended for the mass audience, an action adventure picture that goes for depth. At that level, there is no guilt in enjoying the film. However, it also misses in other areas. Those wanting a samurai film with true Eastern influences might want to stick with Akira Kurosawa’s films.

    ~Edwin
     
  12. Bill J

    Bill J Producer

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    The Last Samurai was my most anticipated movie of the year, but after finally seeing it I am slightly disappointed. Many elements of the film and storytelling methods felt formulaic. Maybe it's because I have seen Glory and Dances with Wolves too many times, I don't know.

    The first half of the film moved extremely slow, mainly because the scenes of the Samurai training became tedious very quickly. However, I felt that the film truly captured the spirit of the era, although the CGI in the San Francisco scenes was horrible.

    Overall, the technical aspects of The Last Samurai were excellent. John Toll's cinematography was excellent as usual and could possibly earn him another Academy Award. The sets and costumes were gorgeous and felt authentic. Hans Zimmer's score was good, but was not quite as memorable as his others for similarly themed films (Gladiator, The Thin Red Line, and Black Hawk Down).

    Cruise's performance was much better than I expected, but I felt that the same role could have been played by a number of actors.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] (out of four)
     
  13. IanHo

    IanHo Extra

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    The close quarters battle scenes were extremely well done. I love samurai and sword movies in general but this is exceptional. Much prefer it over the overwrought, overstylized, and comic book like fighting of Kill Bill Vol.1 that we've recently seen. Instead Last Samurai is truly brutal, tragic, and fascinating to watch.

    The large battle scene at the end was well done but pales in comparison to Kurosawa's still draw dropping poetic color drenched hell on earth that is Ran. The major battles from Braveheart and Gladiator are more exciting than the one in Last Samurai as well. And of course everything these days has to compare to WETA's use of Massive technology for the epic battles in LOTR. Regardless, the battle has all the impact it needed. Honorable poet warriors riding against the oppressive mob of "progress" "industry" "modernism" and "compromise". I'm definately a man of the post-modern age but it had me rooting for the other side.

    Tacked on Hollywood ending at the end but I can wipe that from my mind and enjoy the strengths of this movie.
     
  14. Schrall_Danny

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    This insignificant audience member thought so well of the movie that it reminded him of the first awe felt when watching Braveheart and Fellowship for the first time.

    Incredible movie, finest film of the year, THUS far.
     
  15. JonZ

    JonZ Lead Actor

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    Like Open Range, I think the ending hurt the flm a bit.

    Ken Watanabe was just fantastic and Id love to see him nominated for Oscar consideration. Again Tom Cruise put in a great performance. I think people need to put the Top Gun,Cocktail stuff behind him - hes done some great work since Born On The Fourth Of July.

    I agree with some of what Edwin said - without giving anything away,theres a scene while training the Samurai that comes right out of Glory, but theres some amazing stuff in this film.

    Some really great performances from some of the other Samurai as well [​IMG] I felt like I was watching real Samurai, not actors portraying them. wich made their fate all the more effetive

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]1/2 out of 4 [​IMG] (for now)
     
  16. Kristian

    Kristian Supporting Actor

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    I was surprised to find that The Last Samurai was a much more intimate film than the ads and trailers suggested. Like Master & Commander and Open Range, the focus is not in the action, but in the friendship between two men in the midst of turbulent situations. Not to say that the action wasn't impressive (it was, especially the ninja attack
    ), but what I loved the most about the film was the relationship between Katsumoto and Algren.

    I've never had a problem with Tom Cruise, so I have no problem with praising his work here. But I have to say, this was Ken Watanabe's film. If he doesn't at least get an Oscar nomination for his work here, I'll be very dissapointed.

    The cinematography was very beautiful and Hans Zimmer's score was very effective (although it did sound a bit like his Gladiator score at times).

    [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]

    Definitely in my top 10.
     
  17. Chris

    Chris Lead Actor

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    I must be alone in my view of this film; I personally thought it was dissapointing. I went into this film with very high expectations. The right script, the right idea, good actors, I couldn't see how they could go wrong..

    But throughout the movie, I felt as though a lot of the dialog was so stilted that it played too unreal to be feasible. It felt unreal and the characters didn't really involve me.

    There were moments where I felt as though the film was really going in the right direction, with about a 10-15 minute block where I would think to myself "here we go, this is what I'm after" to have it undercut with a scene or two that I thought distracted from the whole. The nods to "Risky Business" etc. due fair damage to the film (IMHO) because they serve to remind you that this is "Tom Cruise" not the character he is playing.

    This isn't to say I would label the film "Bad" just dissapointing. This is one of those films where the acting screams "Hey! Look at me! I'm Tom Cruise playing someone!"

    I'm really undecided, but for a film that should be an Oscar contender, I feel as though it missed that mark fairly wide.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  18. Seth Paxton

    Seth Paxton Lead Actor

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    First my review from the 2003 thread, followed by some more thoughts...

    The Last Samurai
    7 of 10

    If you ever wanted to understand the difference between an Oscar level film and a routine formula action flick posing as one just sit down and watch Dances With Wolves and then The Last Samurai. This is not a knock on TLS for being LIKE DWW in terms of premise. It just so happens that the similarity clearly shows how something can be done well or done clumsily. Samurai is clumsy formula at its worst, wasting an Oscar-level premise on an empty script that fails to follow any of its deeper paths to greatness.

    While I knocked Gladiator as being non-Oscar caliber (and I still do), it certainly was much more worth of that praise than this film.

    TLS constantly falls back on the very worst in direction and script cliches, for example two DIFFERENT inner monologues (just who's telling us this story anyway?) are used in some bastardization between DWW and Road Warrior, yet so sparingly that it fails to be established as a consistent convention (just think about the reporting/telegraphy station gimmick at the end of Gangs of New York for "not established).

    I also didn't appreciate the use of flashbacks to explain why this already established broken, drunken warrior would be crying out for saki. I guess the director thinks none of us would get it.


    The only way I can explain some of the better reviews this film is getting is that you can make up for a lot in the last act and that is one of the film's greatest strengths...very well staged battle sequences. There is nothing like seeing hundreds, maybe thousands, of real extras well choreographed. The final battle did have some staging that is reminiscent of Kurosawa (at least half a point came strictly for that alone)...but the comparisons end there.

    Not a bad film but definitely a letdown as an Oscar contender. Nowhere near the same league as the film from a similar genre, Master and Commander.


    After writing that I went to see what other critics had said in detail. I knew it was in the red at RTs and had a few good scores here, but I hadn't looked at exactly what was being said.

    That was a real enlightenment because I suddenly felt a lot less alone. Stephen Rea's blurb at RT was dead-on in summerizing a lot of what I felt, and Dave Poland's review was fantastic (though he was being too kind to the film in some ways).

    The film is just very awkward, a real button-pusher. As Poland points out (as do others) the film really contradicts itself on many of its themes. It also fails to develop some of them.

    I also really like Cruise as an actor, but he fell very flat here. I almost never bought him in this role. Oddly I'm not a big fan of Costner but I was with him 100% in DWW.

    As I review the film in my head scene by scene I just see so many FAKE moments, so many that are just connect the dots without any real effort visible on screen. The kind of stuff that really wins with the "I see 5 films a year crowd" but usually stands out like a sore thumb with people like us who see a lot of film every year. Its like Zwick isn't really grasping the world he is showing us, and therefore fails to identify with the honest emotions to be mined and mulled over. Instead it's all "Okay, bad guy A is really bad, good guy B is really bummed especially because A screwed him over though I don't really know why, I just want him to not like the guy".

    An endless parade of moments like this until Cruise gets to the village. Then it gets better though not without its trouble spots. Later in the film we leave the village for awhile and it goes right back in the toilet.

    I'm actually rather agitated over the experience due to my expectations of Cruise and the story.
     
  19. ChuckSolo

    ChuckSolo Screenwriter

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    Anytime I go watch a Tom Cruise movie I do so with a jaundiced eye. I absolutely hated "Eyes Wide Shut" and "Vanilla Sky," and to tell the truth, "Minority Report" had me nodding at times. "The Last Samurai" is a Tom Cruise movie that will definately go in my personal library. I found the movie to be enjoyable and attention grabbing (not a nod in sight) and actually found myself involved in the characters. Ken Watanabe however, IS the STAR of this movie. He puts in a very moving performance and in my, opinion, his work is the best part of this film. Oscar contender, "Dances with Wolves" pretender? Who cares, movies are entertainment in my opinion and not everyone goes to the movies expecting some kind of renewed social awareness after they leave the theater, except maybe those obsessed with their own self importance. I was very entertained by this one. [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     
  20. Chris Harvey

    Chris Harvey Second Unit

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    Chris's against LS, unite! [​IMG]

    Like Chris, I felt it was average at best. Nice technical work, but tremendously stilted dialogue and one-dimensional characters. You can feel Cruise "acting" every damn minute, and he's trying so hard it's too bad there's nothing really there. Ironically, I felt the film DID work during the action scenes, and had Zwick simply stopped trying to make an Important Film of Depth, it would have been a far better film. Kurosawa he ain't.

    Thank God for Ken Watanabe for keeping my interest throughout.

    [​IMG] [​IMG] 1/2 out of [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
     

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