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The Last Samurai (2003)

In the face of an enemy, in the heart of one man, lies the soul of a warrior.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 154 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

‘The Last Samurai’ could well be to Japan what Braveheart was to Scotland. Both are big, blustering, battlefield epics, set within genuine historical events, but at the same time contorting that history almost beyond recognition in order to meet the demands of Hollywood. Similarly, just as Braveheart used neither a Scottish star nor director (Mel Gibson did both jobs), ‘The Last Samurai’ is a starring vehicle for Tom Cruise and directorial project of fellow American Edward Zwick. While both films make for some entertaining viewing, their self-imposed distance from their own origin tends to dilute their potential impact. Here, we’ve got the daft premise of Cruise as Captain Nathan Algren, a washed-up and drunken remnant of Custer’s cavalry, paid by the Japanese government to help train their army for battle against samurai rebels. For Algren, it seems like a good chance to make some big money quickly – that is until he’s captured by the samurai leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), ends up spending the entire winter with the rebels, and discovers them not to be the backward gaggle of savages the government would have us believe. Conflict of interests, here we come. Despite the problems I had accepting the general storyline, it must be said that this is an extremely well put-together piece of work. The battle scenes – which use real action as opposed to CGI – are stupendous, and despite the lengthy running time the film is quickly-paced and at times genuinely exciting. Cruise, meanwhile, produces a masterful performance, and it’s not difficult to see why his part in this one has earned him more than a few name-checks for the year’s big industry gongs. His character grows and develops as the movie progresses, changing from a cynical drunk (albeit a fairly unusual drunk, in that he keeps a journal) to a noble and broad-minded hero figure. ‘The Last Samurai’ doesn’t offer anything particularly thought-provoking or original, but it’s classier than most of the over-computerized action movies we have to put up with nowadays, and is guaranteed to hold your interest. And judging by the title, there won’t be a sequel – what better reason to head along to your local theatre and catch it?

It's Got: Minor roles for UK stalwarts Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly.

It Needs: For someone to tell the “keeping a journal” idea to some of the drunks round my way. It might make a nice alternative from yelling obscenities at passers-by and relieving themselves in flowerbeds.


The greatest epic of the year so far. Who cares if it’s only January?