The Last Samurai (2003) An Epic Tale

Take an American and put him into an exotic decor. Most of the time that goes very wrong. Occasionally it doesn’t and what comes out is an entertaining guilty pleasure like The Last Samurai, a movie midway between The Last of the Mohicans and Memoirs of a Geisha. Although it is not at the same level of Glory, one of my Top 10 war movies and Edward Zwick’s masterpiece, Last of the Samurai is equally beautiful.

Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a hardened, disillusioned and alcoholic veteran of the Civil War. Touring as special attraction with some sort of circus, he has clearly seen better days. He is haunted by what he saw in the war, the killings of the Indians, the battles. While in this sorry state, he is approached  by some Americans who want to hire him as military advisor for a newly established Imperial Japanese Army. If it pays good money, he would probably sell his mother, so he doesn’t hesitate long and follows the men to Japan.

The army consists mainly of peasants with no experience whatsoever in warfare. Despite their not being ready, one of the emperor’s advisors wants Algren to lead them to battle against rebellious Samurai who do not want to accept the changing of the times.

The moment when they are surrounded by these warriors in their incredible armour, it’s obvious they will lose the fight. In the chaos and mayhem that follows, Algren who has been severely wounded is taken prisoner by the Samurai and brought to their village high up in the mountains.

The landscapes and images are extremely beautiful, the ways of the Samurai seem mysterious and we can easily understand that Algren is fascinated. The moment he arrives in the village – and not only because the woman who takes care of him is very beautiful – he tries to immerse himself in the culture and the rituals of this ancient tradition.

In the months that he spends with them he learns their ways of living and fighting and becomes the friend of the their leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). When the imperial army attacks, he fights with him until the last.

I enjoyed the final battle and seeing the battle formations, it reminded me a bit of Waterloo.

I was surprised that I liked this movie I had thought it would be tacky but it is really not bad at all. Plus I have a thing for the Samurai armour. It’s one of the most beautiful armour in history. And their weapons are also quite fascinating, they didn’t use firearms.

It’s a very visual movie, with a good story. In other words, excellent entertainment.

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Tom Cruise’s War Movies

This post could also have been a quiz. How many war movies or/and war related movies starring Tom Cruise do you know? I have counted 9. That seems quite a lot. Although I’m not exactly a Tom Cruise fan but he is very good in some of the movies below.

Valkyrie (2008) This is a must-see movie based on a true event. Cruise plays von Stauffenberg, the man who attempted to assassinate Hitler. Too bad it didn’t work. It’s suspenseful despite that we know the outcome, interesting and tragic.

Tropic Thunder (2008) Bad taste and hilarious, in this movie nothing is sacred. A parody of war movies (especially Vietnam/Platoon), the film industry and a few other things. Cruise is extremely funny in this. He’s the ruthless greedy producer who is willing to send a film crew to certain death if success is guaranteed. (Here is my review)

Lions for Lambs (2007) Tom Cruise, Meryl Streep and Robert Redford in a movie that has been called great by many. I have seen it but remember zero. I think because it didn’t have a good story line, just a fairly good idea. Here is the IMdB blurb: “Injuries sustained by two Army ranger behind enemy lines in Afghanistan set off a sequence of events involving a congressman, a journalist and a professor.”

War of the Worlds (US 2005) Yes, this is stretching the genre a little bit and I haven’t seen it. No clue whether it is any good. It’s not my type of movie. Here’s another IMdB blurb: “As Earth is invaded by alien tripod fighting machines, one family fights for survival.”

Last Samurai (2003) I just watched this, so the review is upcoming. Very beautiful movie starring Tom Cruise as hardened Civil War veteran who is hired to teach combat techniques to Japanese soldiers. (See my review)

A Few Good Men (1992) This is one of my favourite guilty pleasures. A gripping court-room drama with a great cast: Tom Cruise, Demi Moore, Kevin Bacon, Kiefer Sutherland and Jack Nicholson.

Born on the 4th of July (1989) Based on Ron Kovic’s memoir. Cruise gives an outstanding performance of Kovic who volunteered to go to Vietnam, came home as a cripple and joins the Anti-Vietnam movement.

Top Gun (1986) Action and romance about aspiring fighter pilots in an elite US flying school.  A really corny movie but the favourite guilty pleasure of many.

Taps (1981) Story of some military cadets who want to save their academy at any price.

My favourite Tom Cruise movie regardless of the genre is Magnolia but my favourite Tom Cruise war movie is Valkyrie. I really liked the movie and his performance in it a great deal. And I liked him in A Few Good Men.

Which one is your favourite?