The Last Samurai

Don't expect a Dances with Kimonos or Bamboo Braveheart. Expect an adventure worth the ticket price. This isn't a good Tom Cruise movie. This is a really good movie -- period! Do not miss The Last Samurai.

RATING: 4 out of 5

Okay, when I saw the trailer for The Last Samurai, I got the impression that Tom Cruise went back and remade Kevin Costner's epic Dances with Wolves, substituting Native Americans with the Feudal Warriors of Japan. And he did. I also wondered, after seeing clips of the battle sequences, that Cruise was substituting the Braveheart broadswords with katanas. And he did. I also guessed from some of the clips that Cruise would fall in love with one of the Samurai women in the same manner that William Wallace did with the English queen in Braveheart. And he did. And then as Costner did in Dances with Wolves, I surmised that Cruise's character would be faced with a society considered "savage" but discovers the peace and harmony within these people -- and himself -- and takes arms against those he once served. And he did.

You would think that if Cruise was going so out of his way to mimic Dances with Wolves and Braveheart, he would have a tough time pulling this off...

He didn't. I loved it from frame one to the ending credits!

I'm addressing the similarities between Dances with Wolves and Braveheart, but The Last Samurai stands on its own as a deep and gripping film, and hands down Tom Cruise's finest performance. I enjoyed watching his transformation that was far from perfect and not as "easy" as Costner's in Wolves. There was also a haunting parallel drawn between the "Westernization" of Japan and the suppression of the Native Americans...something that Cruse's character picks up on, but decides to act against the injustices this time.

As far as the actors go, the reason Cruise gives his best performance to date is so that he can keep up with everyone else! There is no weak link in this cast. Everyone is top knotch, especially Ken Wantanabe who plays opposite of Cruise and -- in some scenes -- makes Cruise look like he's running in place! A good portion of the film is spoken in Japanese, and yet you understand everything conveyed even before reading the subtitles. As producers, the unstoppable team of Cruise and Wagner should be proud of this air-tight ensemble put together for this film.

And with the Japanese backdrop, you got extremely cool swordfights, extremely cool wardrobe, and extremely cool landscapes. The visuals are nothing short of breathtaking, and you begin to take this journey with Cruise into this far-away culture that lives by duty and honor. You also have some battle sequences that raise the bar, but not in an over-the-top manner, one of many reasons I give The Last Samurai an A+ for doing their homework. These weren't Hollywood Samurai but the real deal, right down to the ninja tactics, the archery style, and the little touches that made this film a historical epic.

Tom Cruise has come a long way from the days of dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger (although he does have a funny scene where he's trying out his robes for the first time!), and The Last Samurai is a crowning achievement for his evolution as an actor and producer. Well done, Tom, and thank you for this amazing cinematic journey!

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