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Reviews
STAR RATINGS EXPLAINED
Unmissable 5 Stars
Excellent 4 Stars
Good 3 Stars
Poor 2 Stars
Tragic 1 Star

FILM DETAILS
Certificate
15
Cast
Tom Cruise
Ken Watanabe
Timothy Spall
Billy Connolly
Tony Goldwyn.
Directors
Edward Zwick.
Screenwriters
John Logan
Edward Zwick
Marshall Herskovitz.
Running Time
154 minutes

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The Last Samurai
Cruise learns the way of the samurai.


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Plot
American Captain Nathan Algren, haunted by his role in the Indian Campaigns, is recruited to train an army fighting the 1877 samurai rebellion in Japan. But when captured by samurai leader Katsumoto, he embarks on a journey of redemption.


Review
Alexander should consult his adjutants, Achilles confer with his war council and Arthur seek conference with Merlin, for Nathan Algren and Katsumoto - the sword-swinging heroes of The Last Samurai - have manoeuvred their tour de force onto the box office battlefield and seized a formidable position. Leading the forthcoming phalanx of arms-and-armour epics drawn from history and legend, Edward Zwick's compelling action-adventure is a masterclass not only in clarity of storytelling, economy of characterisation and dynamism of narrative, but also in the legitimate exposition of the heroic ideal.

Returning to the 19th century, where he conquered hearts with Legends Of The Fall and Glory, Zwick dons the armour of artistic licence and cuts a swathe through Japan's samurai revolt of 1877. While he and his co-writers lop off the odd historical appendage, they succeed in capturing an authentic framework on which to explore a doctrine of honour as both a foundation stone of an ancient culture, and as redemption for a spiritually corrupted denizen of an industrialised society.

The transformation of a world-weary American soldier to an enlightened occidental warrior, along with the samurai rebellion's seemingly futile struggle against Japan's encroaching industrial revolution, could easily have fallen victim to an onslaught of sentimentality and even implausibility, were it not for Zwick's masterful handling of the samurai ethos. The world of the bushi is founded on an ancient creed that demands absolute fealty to the warriors' code, even to the point of unquestioning self-sacrifice, and its delicate philosophies thrive amid an atmosphere of discipline and restraint.

Nowhere is this more keenly felt than in the performance of Cruise. For while Hollywood's leading man is to be commended for taking the lead in a film that - while careful to implicate all the Western powers - takes a swipe at American imperialism, his greatest achievement lies in his subordination of himself to the role. Too often the glare of Cruise's mega-star status obscures the character, yet with Captain Nathan Algren - arguably his most expansive part to date - he musters a generous, understated performance, exposing his character's spiritual weakness and mental fragility along with his strength, compassion and sense of humour.

From his feisty friendships with the likable Zebulon Gant and Simon Graham, to his witty, one-sided conversations with his samurai guard, Algren allows the ancillary characters to blossom around him. Among the brightest flowers is his nurse, Taka, the subject of a smouldering love interest, unspoken and unconsummated, that characterises the poignancy of Zwick's epic world.

The most resplendent bloom, however, is the samurai warlord Katsumoto, played by Ken Watanabe. In a performance that bristles with strength and conviction every bit as steely as the twin blades he wields, Katsumato is the perfect embodiment of the heroic form. As he leads his warriors in the final charge against a Japanese battalion armed with howitzers and Gatling guns, the glory of his deeds is magnified still further by the impossible odds he faces.

With the plot revolving around the American government's zeal to supply the Japanese army with modern weaponry, The Last Samurai is a war movie. And, just as Peter Weir boards the galleon of historical accuracy with the battles in Master And Commander, so too does Zwick, marshalling his armies' movements and translating their tactics with ease but more excitement. Later this year, when Alexander, Achilles and Arthur launch their assaults on the historical action-adventure, they'd better be equipped with similar attributes. They will struggle to find a chink in The Last Samurai's armour.


Verdict
August award bodies are likely to overlook a picture that puts the accent on action-adventure (samurais vs. ninjas!) rather than detailed drama. More fool them — as brisk as it is rich, The Last Samurai is much more fun than a mere history lesson.


Reviewed by Will Lawrence


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Average user rating for The Last Samurai
Empire Star Rating

Breathtaking taking CLASSIC and performance by Cruise.

One of the most inspiring, exciting, and phenomenal movie that enybody can watch. After "Glory" Edward Zwick deliver's another masterpiece! The story takes place during the early modernization of Japan, in the 1870s and 1880s. The Emperor's power has been weakened by the political and economic power of his cabinet, by his young age, and by the political influence of the United States and other western powers pulling the strings of his cabinet and supplying modern weaponry and tactics ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Ralph25 at 21:07, 09 April 2013 | Report This Post


Epic, but still real. This film doesn't lose touch with its point with the large scale fights and the main Hollywood lead. A basic 'Dances With Wolves' story but packed full of heart, action and good performances. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by danfacey711 at 22:02, 02 June 2012 | Report This Post


As good as it gets. It moves me every time i see it. From the loss of a son to the final inspiration in death. I can see the pastiche in the film, but it does not detract from it at all. I sob every time i see it ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by SpeedSailor at 16:26, 20 November 2011 | Report This Post


The Last Samurai

Brilliant film! Watched this yesterday and I was shocked I had never fully seen it or heard more about it! It is a film that has the potential to flop under cliches and ignorance but it has been handled maturely and the performances by Ken Watanabe and Tom Cruise are excellent. The music by Hans Zimmer is powerful and moving and the director has handled the fight scenses very well. It is a strong and moving film with a lot to sink your teeth into. A definite purchase. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Shaunyboy27 at 09:31, 27 July 2010 | Report This Post


Thrilling and absolutely great. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by nc_jj at 21:08, 15 January 2010 | Report This Post


Classic

A great epic. Not very historically correct, but it says something about the old traditions of Japan, albeit a bit glorified of course. What makes the movie is the performances, across the board, and the restraint of the director. A lot of respect for Japan i shown here; no english with accents, but correctly dialected Japanese. This is undeniably Tom Cruise's best performance, mostly because of the restraint he shows also. A good example of this movie's strength is the very last scene, which co... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by amerelium at 09:32, 13 August 2008 | Report This Post


Past and Tradition

It wasn't the faithful recreation of the Samurai way of life. It wasn't the honour or the loyalty or the betrayal. It wasn't the perfect sword-action sequences. It wasn't the amazing performances and sceneries. No. It was only realizing how ungrateful we are about our past and traditions. Greetings from Chile. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by cafedito at 03:40, 24 July 2008 | Report This Post


Kyle Haugen Mrs. Kellogg Review #1, Film p.3 3 September 2007 The Last Samurai As a movie of epic battles, transformation of character, and a the struggle of a fading, yet beautiful and honorable way of life; The Last Samurai, ever since it came out in 2003 has been, without question, the most fantastic film I have ever seen. Edwark Zwick (Director of Glory, and Courage Under Fire) has brought an absolute masterpiece to be watched on the screen. This movie is also the home to Tom Cruise... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Deeplight at 01:07, 04 September 2007 | Report This Post


Kyle Haugen Mrs. Kellogg Review #1, Film p.3 3 September 2007 The Last Samurai As a movie of epic battles, transformation of character, and a the struggle of a fading, yet beautiful and honorable way of life; The Last Samurai, ever since it came out in 2003 has been, without question, the most fantastic film I have ever seen. Edwark Zwick (Director of Glory, and Courage Under Fire) has brought an absolute masterpiece to be watched on the screen. This movie is also the home to Tom Cruise... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Deeplight at 01:07, 04 September 2007 | Report This Post


??????????????

5 stars?!! What?!!!! Is this the scientology movie database or something? White toothed westerner saves ancient eastern tribes in dull and derivative actioner. In the Cruiser's cannon I prefered War of the Worlds meself, and it was shite! ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by dunner05 at 15:40, 23 July 2007 | Report This Post


The Last Samurai

An epic tale told with poise, beauty and no lack of class, Zwick's direction and credentials ensure that this is nothing less than an elegant story of honour, betrayal and loyalty. Clearly aiming for a tone somewhere between Kurosawa and Peter Jackson, The Last Samurai's main advantage is having Tom Cruise (mercifully) in acting mode. While his admirable thespian credentials are usually dwarfed by his stratosphere-like persona, here he never once shows off or attempts anything even approac... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Eomer_King at 16:36, 13 February 2007 | Report This Post


I don't know how I could describe this film, but Last Samurai really deserves more than five stars. The film is well acted. I love the samurai, their warrior spirit are admirable. This film deserves all Oscars. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Li at 13:46, 07 January 2007 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Li at 13:14, 07 January 2007 | Report This Post


... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Jack Li at 13:13, 07 January 2007 | Report This Post


Last Samurai

THis film is outstanding. I love the samurai in the same way i love the American Indians. However i cant escape the feelings that the idea for this was stolen from Dances With Wolves. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by solid snake at 15:54, 14 December 2006 | Report This Post


i think

i think its late release nearing the oscars didnt give it much hope on oscar success- however- the film was utterly brilliant in all aspects, especially the rain sequence- this will be cruises best film i think. ... More

Empire User Rating

Posted by Sumintelligent at 19:02, 08 February 2006 | Report This Post


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