The Last Samurai It's Ken Watanabe's movie -- Tom Cruise just stars in it. The Last Samurai is essentially a quiet little epic, told in silent observation as… The Last Samurai It's Ken Watanabe's movie -- Tom Cruise just stars in it. The Last Samurai is essentially a quiet little epic, told in silent observation as…
DVD Review

The Last Samurai (2004)

Tom Cruise, The Last Samurai | BLADE RUNNER Cruise stars in ''The Last Samurai,'' but another actor brings it home
Image credit: The Last Samurai: David James
BLADE RUNNER Cruise stars in ''The Last Samurai,'' but another actor brings it home
EW's GRADE
B

Details Release Date: May 04, 2004; DVD Release Date: May 04, 2004; Movie Rated: R; Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Historical; With: Tom Cruise; Distributor: Warner Bros.; More

It's Ken Watanabe's movie -- Tom Cruise just stars in it. The Last Samurai is essentially a quiet little epic, told in silent observation as much as in word and deed, which suits an actor of consummate grace like the Oscar-nominated Watanabe. If only there were more of him.

But Cruise's name is above the title, so the film focuses on his Nathan Algren, an alcoholic Civil War captain who, during Reconstruction, accepts $500 a month to teach Japan's Imperial Army modern military tactics for their fight against the samurai. Since we wouldn't have a story unless the samurai took Algren hostage, they oblige and he goes native -- adopting their dress, their culture, and just enough Japanese to sound pithy yet profound.

And that's where the gorgeously shot film earns its dismissive ''Dances With Samurai.'' If there's any sentiment that isn't telegraphed, any action that isn't predictable, it's not from lack of trying. The exception? Watanabe, whose open face and ready humor are a constant delight. His Katsumoto is, as director Edward Zwick says in the commentary, ''the moral center of the film.'' We don't hear much else about Watanabe, but there's more than enough on Cruise: his acting talent, his fight training, his Japanese accent (which Zwick talks over for most of his monotonic commentary). Overall, the two-disc set has too much production detail and too few deleted scenes, and the footage from the Japanese premieres lacks subtitles. Now, if they'd included the Berlitz course Tom must have taken, THAT would have been worth watching.

Originally posted May 04, 2004 Published in issue #764 May 07, 2004 Order article reprints
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