Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai (1999) Movie Review

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai Film Summary

Title: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
Year: 1999
Genre: Action/Crime/Drama
Play time: 1h 56min
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, John Tormey

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai: Organized Crime vs Samurai Warriors

The revolution continues. In 1999, many people cheered that filmmakers are breaking out of the box, finally getting the chance to make truly unusual movies and be accepted by the mainstream. See The Blair Witch Project and Being John Malkovich if you still need proof. The beginnings of 2000 have signaled that things are going to continue to get progressively weirder. Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai is a bizarre little movie that draws parallels between organized crime of present day and ancient Japanese Samurai warriors. Arthouse director (is there such a thing?) Jim Jarmusch has made a deliberately paced, utterly compelling meditation about the mafia.

Astonishing Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai

Ghost Dog is not your run-of-the-mill contract killer. He lives in a shack on a rooftop. In his spare time, he plays with his trained pigeons and practices with his sword. He can only be reached with a messenger bird. Nobody knows his real name. He’s a black man, played by the astonishing Forest Whitaker, and yet he does jobs for the Italian mafia. Why? We find out that a mobster saved his life one day and according to the ancient Samurai code, by which he strictly abides, he is forever indebted to his savior.

But things aren’t so simple. After a misunderstanding occurs during one of Ghost Dog’s jobs, the mafia decides it’s time to eliminate him. Unfortunately, none of them know anything about him — there’s only the pigeons and the enigmatic name. So they send people with guns searching rooftops and when they trash his abode in his absence, all hell breaks loose.

There are, of course, doubts about Ghost Dog’s sanity, though the film doesn’t allow us to make a forthright conclusion. The fact that he lives alone on a rooftop and follows the Samurai code could, perhaps, be chalked up to mere eccentricity, but what about the fact that he befriends a Haitian ice cream truck driver? The driver speaks only French. Ghost Dog speaks only English. But doesn’t hinder their conversations.

Forest Whitaker, director of Waiting to Exhale and an even better actor, carries the movie. His subdued, expressive performance is nothing short of amazing; I don’t think that the film is eligible for the 2000 Academy Awards but I would otherwise be screaming “Oscar!” He doesn’t get to speak an awful lot, putting him in the difficult position of projecting feelings through subtle (very subtle, considering the character’s Vulcan-like stoicism) body language.

Jim Jarmusch inserts plenty of self-effacing humor to keep things interesting. Aside from some intentionally funny dialogue and an Italian mafioso who is a fan of gangsta rap, the Way of the Samurai apparently includes advice on how to improve a warrior’s complexion. Much of Ghost Dog‘s beauty comes from the effortless way it combines humor, suspense, poignancy and theme into a balanced and entertaining movie.

Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai – The End Was Murky & Surreal

If there’s a flaw here, it’s to be found in the film’s last 10 minutes, when it takes too many steps towards the pretentious. The ending was needlessly murky and surreal; perhaps an attempt at allegory that didn’t quite work the way Jarmusch expected it to. A movie as affecting as this one didn’t need a complication to cap it off, it needed a resolution.

Other than that, I can scarcely think of ways to improve this engrossing, original, near-brilliant production. If regular films from the Hollywood movie mill no longer satisfy you, Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai is the one to seek out.

Seeking in movies meaning and reflection in real-time. On the look out for biography, thriller & drama best pieces.

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