|The Last Samurai (2003)
Starring: Tom Cruise, Billy Connolly, Tony Goldwyn, Shin Koyamada, Timothy Spall
Director: Edward Zwick
"The Last Samurai" is classic Kurosawa through and through, integrating pure adrenaline action sequences with a stunningly stylistic environment that celebrates the beauty of Japan. While the film certainly pays tribute to the old Samurai films, director Edward Zwick also generates a new look for the genre with the help of stars Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe.
Capt. Nathan Algren (Cruise) is a legendary Civil War hero well known for his brave combat engagements and studies of primitive groups like the Native Americans, but his dreams are currently haunted by the time he spent under the command of Colonel Tagley (Tony Goldwyn) during unnecessary massacres of Indian women and children. After successfully botching a routine gun commercial at a city fair, Algren is convinced by a fellow officer (Billy Connolly) to accompany him to Japan as a paid trainer of Japanese troops currently locked in battle with the rebel Samurai.
It is not Cruise who is the star of this film, though; instead, the powerful Watanabe as the Samurai head, Katsumoto, steals the spotlight. In a dying age of the Samurai, Katsumoto hopes to convince the Emperor to reevaluate the country's modern progression. During a clash between the still untrained troops and the Samurai, Algren is captured and taken back to the clan's home in the mountains where he is treated and kept alive because of his relentless pride in the wooded battle. Eventually, Algren begins to appreciate his captors' palace, immersing himself into the culture and way of the Samurai and falling for Katsumoto's sister, Taka (Koyuki).
"The Last Samurai" never offers a dull moment while thoroughly developing both the story and its characters. The film truly matures as its characters do, and as Algren and Katsumoto study one another, their animosity nurtures the eventual friendship that's forged throughout two seasons of battle with the now disciplined Japanese army. Cruise really doesn't offer anything unique to the film, but the unknown Watanabe is a fresh talent who should prove to the Academy that he is worthy of major award consideration. Brilliant cinematography and a strong script make "The Last Samurai" an unbelievable film that should net both supporting actor and best picture nominations. If you've been patiently waiting for that award-deserving December film, it's finally arrived.