Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai

Jim Jarmusch

9/10 (slow)

Several years before Forrest Whitaker achieved recognition for his mesmerizing performance as Idi Amin in “Last King of Scotland,” he turned another unforgettable performance in the vastly overlooked “Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai.”

He plays Ghost Dog, a modern-day samurai serving as the ghetto hitman to a decaying Mafia family. If that sounds too ridiculous for your taste, all I can say is that it´s brought to you by the same guy who directed “Dead Man,” “Coffee and Cigarettes,” and “Broken Flowers.” And that it’s awesome.

What makes this awesome? Mainly the fact that Jarmusch is an extremely intelligent director, and very precise with all of his films. This goes for props, cinematography, story and acting. Nothing in these movies is done by accident. So when he takes a story about a samurai-gangsta mafia hitman and tries to make it good, there’s a pretty good chance he’ll succeed.

The entire movie is a homage to earlier samurai films, most notably the French “Le Samourai” and the Japanese “Branded to Kill.” It is filled with symbolism about honor and decaying morality, and one man trying to uphold a code of honor about which nobody else in the world gives a shit. It’s about the inevitable passing of time, and the entropy that results. Plus you have Whitaker toting around his briefcase with laser-sighted silenced pistol (an updated version of a kitana, apparently), and killing people in creative ways. There’s a pretty sweet low-key hip-hop soundtrack taboot.

The movie is basically summed up by one scene. Ghost Dog, who is a sort of Zen Buddhist and lover of all animals, stops by the side of the road when he sees two hunters hauling a dead bear into their truck. After chastising them for hunting out of season, they try to get violent on him and he has to shoot them. He tells the survivor that in ancient cultures, bears were considered equal to men. “This ain’t no ancient culture,” replies the man. Ghost Dog says, “Sometimes it is.” Then he puts a bullet in his head.

I will recognize that the movie still might not sound that great even after describing it. All I can say is that it is awesome and totally unique, and if you see it you will be pleasantly surprised.

30 March 2010

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