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PCR # 193  (Vol. 4, No. 49)  This edition is for the week of December 1--7, 2003.

This Week's PCR
Movie Review
"The Last Samurai"

Movie review by:
Michael A. Smith

Three and a half stars

Movies are rated 0 to 4 stars

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Warner Brothers     
Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Tony Goldwyn, Billy Connolly and Timothy Spall
Directed by: Edward Zwick
Rated: R
Running Time: 2 hours 24 mins

As big and sprawling as any epic David Lean ever made, "The Last Samurai" is big-time film-making at its very best.

Our story begins with Civil War hero Nathan Algren (Cruise) now reduced to hawking rifles. He has become a drunken shell of himself, haunted by the actions of his commanding officer, Colonel Bagley (Goldwyn), ordering the slaughter of innocent Native Americans, including women and children. When he is offered the opportunity to travel to Japan to train their army to fight the local samurai warriors, he takes the job and is soon sailing to the land of the rising sun.

Upon arrival, Algren is introduced to a British journalist who will serve as his interpreter (Spall). He is given a quick introduction to Japanese customs and the problems concerning the samurai. Algren begins training his charges, but there is much they need to learn. Unfortunately, Bagley orders Algren to have his troops ready to take on the samurai immediately, believing their make shift army's powerful weapons will easily defeat the swords and bows of the samurai. Of course, many of the soldiers are killed. Many more, Bagley among them, run away in fear. Finding himself surrounded by warriors, Algren fights them off until he is exhausted. His bravery draws the attention of the samurai leader (Watanabe) and his life is spared. What follows is a man's journey towards his own destiny.

Director Zwick has created some of the best "epic" films of the past 15 years. Films like "Glory" and "Legends of the Fall" told a story in a scope not often seen in these times of cookie-cutter film making. He is greatly aided by two-time Academy Award-winning cinematographer John Toll. Toll paints a portrait so beautiful you want to put it in a frame and hang it on your wall. I have to say now that "Glory" is on my short list of films worthy of a Best Picture Oscar that didn't even get nominated. Zwick brings the same touch to "Samurai," keeping you as interested in the characters as you are in the action. Cruise does his usual solid work. Goldwyn is just as slimy as he was in "Ghost," and Spall steals every scene he's in. But the acting revelation here is Watanabe. Watching his character unfold I was reminded of a young Toshiro Mifune, leaping off the screen in "Yojimbo." Already an established star in his native Japan, look for more from this fine actor state-side. The battle scenes are well-staged, and the make-up, contributed by long-time pal Corey Castellano, is first-rate.

On a scale of zero to four stars, I give "The Last Samurai" Three and a half stars

This week's movie review of "The Last Samurai" is ©2003 by Michael A. Smith.  All graphics this page are creations of Nolan B. Canova, ©2003, all rights reserved. All contents of "Nolan's Pop Culture Review" are ©2003 by Nolan B. Canova.