Thursday, July 17, 2014

Movie Review: "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" (1999)

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Movie"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai"
Director: Jim Jarmusch
Year: 1999
Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hour, 56 minutes

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a simple man who lives by the code of the samurai and will die by that very same code. After being helped and saved by a mobster named Louie (John Tormey) when he was younger, Ghost Dog feels the need to repay him, so he becomes Louie's "retainer," doing hit jobs for him whenever he needs. Louie's boss is Ray Vargo (Henry Silva), and after his daughter Louise (Tricia Vessey) witnesses one of Ghost Dog's hits for the mob, Ghost Dog himself is targeted for assassination by the mafia.

This is an off-brand gangster movie with an urban-samurai twist, and it is certainly wonderful in its strangeness. First off, Forest Whitaker is not the person you'd think of upon hearing the word "samurai," but he oddly works well as title character Ghost Dog, living and dying by the code of the samurai. His calm and collected face lends well to the nature of the samurai, yet he's so deadly as a hit man. His stoicism aids him in his career as a hit man because you never see him coming and he doesn't do anything out of anger. All of his moves are calculated and done with precision. The group he is targeted by is one filled with low-rent mobsters struggling to pay their bills and long for the glory days of the old mafia. This is not your stereotypical Vito Corleone group of mobsters. These guys are sloppy, inefficient, and old as hell...they even get winded walking up a flight of stairs. For some strange reason, these guys are always watching some sort of old school cartoon on TV, which lends to the movie's weirdness and hilarity. There's actually a lot of humor throughout this movie, which you wouldn't necessarily associate with a movie about the mob. The interactions between Ghost Dog and his best friend, a French ice cream truck driver who doesn't speak a lick of English, are subtly humorous, and despite not understanding each other, they always seem to say the same thing.

There were a lot of stylistic things we enjoyed about this film as well. First of all, the quotes throughout the movie lent to the audience's understanding of how Ghost Dog's mind operates as a student of the samurai. They also provided nice transitions between scenes that otherwise may have been odd and out of place without one. Second, it's interesting that, for a movie about a samurai, there are no swords in the film, and all of his hits are done with guns (though these guns are twirled like a sword would be). This shows that the way of the samurai is more about one's mindset than any weapon used in battle. Third, the camera work in this film can be really cool. The beginning fly-over shot of Ghost Dog's neighborhood is a great scene for an introduction. There are a lot of stylized camera shots throughout the film, most notably when Ghost Dog is using his gun. Finally, the soundtrack provided by RZA was authentic and fitting.

All in all, this is a very intriguing take on a movie about what a samurai would be in modern day society. Another powerhouse performance by Whitaker!

My Rating: 7/10
BigJ's Rating: 7/10
IMDB's Rating: 7.6/10
Rotten Tomatoes Rating: 82%
Do we recommend this movie: Yes!!

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