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Tightly Done Historical Action Piece

  • Feb 1, 2005
Rating:
+3
I was surprised that I actually liked this one, particularly since it seemed to promise just another run-of-the-mill action/adventure period piece. Of course I happen to be partial to these kinds of stories and I have a great fondness for the Japanese variants of same. Still I didn't expect to enjoy this hybrid eastern-western that reworked Japanese history in order to put a dissolute and despondent American war hero (who's tortured by what he did in the Indian wars that followed on the Civil War) into the era of Japanese modernization. Tom Cruise always seems to me to be too cuddly to play such roles and yet I thought he pulled this one off. The story held together and was absorbing if somewhat predictable while Cruise actually proved to be a somewhat convincing American dissolute. That he takes to the Samurai lifestyle and weapons handling practices so readily is a bit hard to believe though the film does a good job of dragging out the learning process enough so that it doesn't look too precipitous. Of course, the American is only with his captors for a few months so it's a little hard to accept that he manages to become expert in Japanese swordsmanship in so short a span. But the film makes it look convincing and that's usually enough in this kind of thing. The battle scenes are also nicely done and the Samurai lord, Katsuomoto, who captures and ultimately befriends the American Algren is powerfully portrayed. Although there was little that was unexpected, Katsoumoto's escape from his enemies at the emperor's court was probably the high point and the least predictable in the film's repertoire of scenes. I'd see this one again for its ambience and tight storytelling, even if it didn't ultimately swallow me up, which, on my view, is the true measure of a great film.

SWM
author of The King of Vinland's Saga

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About the reviewer
Stuart W. Mirsky ()
Ranked #353
I'm a retired bureaucrat (having served, most recently, as an Assistant Commissioner in amunicipal agency in a major Northeastern American city). In 2002 I took an early retirement to pursue a lifelong … more
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Wiki

Edward Zwick directs this sumptuously designed, action-packed period epic that stars Tom Cruise as Captain Nathan Algren. Algren, a former Civil War hero, is adrift in 1870s San Francisco after the war, a lost soul struggling to stay afloat in a booze-soaked stupor. When he is recruited by the Japanese government to train the Emperor's army, he departs for the unknown shores of Japan and begins training the soldiers in American military tactics. 
But these skills are useless against a band of samurai rebels led by the proud warrior Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), and Algren is easily defeated. He is taken to a remote samurai village where he learns samurai warrior codes and ways of life, developing a deep bond with Katsumoto and sharing philosophical conversations with him. Caught between the feudal culture of the ancient samurai warriors and the encroachment of modern society, Algren is forced to choose between his own culture or Katsumoto's. 
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Details

Director: Edward Zwick
Genre: Action, Adventure
Release Date: December 5, 2003
MPAA Rating: R
DVD Release Date: May 4, 2004
Runtime: 154 minutes
Studio: Warner Home Video
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