Top Of The Chops
DIRECTED BY Edward Zwick
STARRING Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Hiroyuki Sanada, Timothy Spall
Opens January 9, Cert 15, 154 mins
Very loosely based on the development of trade links between the US and Japan in the 1870s, signalling the end of Shogunate rule and the beginning of Japan's Meiji Restoration era, The Last Samurai details the exploits of fictional cavalry hero Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise). Dispirited by the violence he's inflicted on the Indian nation, Algren accepts a lucrative assignment to train Japanese riflemen. Goaded into leading an attack against rebel lord Katsumoto before his inexperienced troops are ready, Algren's command is wiped out. Captured and studied by the fearless samurai leader, Algren finds his Western beliefs challenged and his life changed beyond recognition as he's drawn into the bloody conflict between Katsumoto and the Japanese Emperor's US-influenced advisors.
Ken Watanabe and Hiroyuki Sanada, as the noble Katsumoto and his unyielding super-warrior Ujio, are both fiercely charismatic, recalling Toshirô Mifune at his most iconic and powerful. Cruise, who's on screen for virtually the entire 154-minute length, struggles with the earlier scenes in which Algren is a broken drunk, haunted by the atrocities he's committed under General Custer, but comes into his own when Algren is reborn as a member of Katsumoto's honourable samurai class. His epiphanic fight scene, in which he embraces his samurai destiny and despatches four godless assassins, is glorious stuff, straight out of Kazuo Koike's Lone Wolf And Cub.
By the time director Zwick (Glory, Legends Of The Fall) unleashes his climax—the samurai forces take on the American-armed might of the Emperor—all disbelief is suspended, and even the most fervent Cruise sceptics will surrender themselves to 45 gloriously apocalyptic minutes of neck-slicing, limb-severing battleground spectacle.
The Last Samurai is hardly the portentous, Oscar-baiting rumination on honour and cultural change that it cracks itself up to be, but it is a brilliantly-made, sharply-edited, rousing boys' own adventure, stuffed to the gills with ferocious action, blaring cannon fire and big fuck-off swords. A bank holiday classic in the making.
Rating: 4 / 10