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In Jersey City, an African American hit man follows "Hagakure: The Way of the Samurai." He lives alone, in simplicity with homing pigeons for company, calling himself Ghost Dog. His master, who saved his life eight years ago, is part of the local mob. When the boss' daughter witnesses one of Ghost Dog's hits, he becomes expendable. The first victims are his birds, and in response, Ghost Dog goes right at his attackers but does not want to harm his master or the young woman. On occasion, he talks with his best friend, a French-speaking Haitian who sells ice cream in the park, and with a child with whom he discusses books. Can he stay true to his code? And if he does, what is his fate? Written by
Ghost Dog shoots Handsome Frank first in the stomach, then in the chest, then in the head. These shots follow the same pattern as seppuku, Japanese ritual suicide, in which the first cut with a sword or knife is made across the belly, the second cut up toward the sternum, and finally the suicide dips his head and is decapitated by his assistant. See more »
When Ghost Dog kills the first person, the laser pointer does not come from his gun, but from somewhere on the right of the screen. See more »
The Way of the Samurai is found in death. Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears, and swords. Being carried away by surging waves. Being thrown into the midst of a great fire. Being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake. Falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease, or committing seppuku at the death of one's ...
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One of the most unique and daringly good films in years
Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
* * * * Stars
Forest Whitaker stars in this amazingly good character driven film. Whitaker is Ghost Dog, a New York hitman who lives by the code of the ancient samurai. When a job for the mob goes wrong they decide to cut their losses and put a hit out on him. But since he's a samurai and not just a normal hitman this proves to be a huge mistake for them.
This film really works on three levels. First is the duality of the film's coolness factor and the strength of Whitaker's performance. Whitaker radiates cool in this film. In every scene and every frame, through both action and inaction we know he is being of awesome power. His performance is note perfect. There's one scene where a grievous wrong has been done and we see Whitaker absorb the devastation, then he narrates that when a making decision it should be done in the space of seven breathes. Once that decision is made and we realize Whitaker's full fury will now be unleashed upon his enemies, it sends a tingle up the spine of the viewer. Whitaker's resolve shines through the screen and through his subsequent acting the pace builds until we reach the film's ultimate battle, which is a really, really good fight scene-one of the most satisfying ever filmed.
Furthermore we have the film's philosophy. This aspect of the film is the most important of all even more so than Whitaker's superb performance. As the film's tale unfolds we do need learn about the Way of the Samurai through the eastern philosophy Whitaker espouses as he narrates the film. Often times the film breaks from the action just to linger on the narration and let in sink in. It's a technique that helps set the tone of the film and makes it a completely absorbing experience.
The third thing that the film does really well is it is character and not plot driven. At least just as much time is spent following Whitaker through his day to day life as he interacts with people in his community as is spent on the action parts of the plot. In many ways the film works as commentary on the values of modern society. The scenes with Whitaker and his best friend, a Haitian ice cream vendor provide this film with true heart and soul. We see repeatedly that the two friends can understand each other because they are at peace with the world and in tune with their surroundings, so that their bond transcends mere language. Ghost Dog also has a touching relationship with a young girl that he hopes to impart his code to so that she may one day have the tools of knowledge necessary to escape life in the inner city. These are characters that would have been interesting a two-hour film just living their lives without the samurai and hitman aspects of the film. However both aspects work exceptionally well, the effect taken as a whole make this one of the best films of the past few years.
Besides Whitaker and his friends, one other great performance is given by Tricia Vessey as Louise Vargo, the young girl that sets all that happens in motion. It's a small part but a key one that she does an admirable job with.
If there is a flaw with this film it is that the gangster villains are unnecessarily racist. These scenes are somewhat jarring on first viewing, but are at least consistent with the film's ultimate tone that the gangster's way of life is dying, while the code of the samurai is timeless. It is no coincidence that all the mobsters are much older than Whitaker. Both characters note numerous times that the world is changing, the difference is the gangsters say it with fear and trepidation, while Whitaker notices it as observation. Like the changing of the wind the changing of time and circumstance is neither good nor bad when weighed against his code.
While Whitaker deserves infinite praise for his performance, almost just as much praise must be given to director Jim Jarmush. His directing of this film is quite daring and even more skillfull. His approach to the narration is unusual and yet it works on multiple levels and lets us this is a film more about tone than action. The character driven film is a rare commodity. Most films are plot driven moving from point A to point B with no more creativity than a child connecting a dot-to-dot. Here we have a film that starts with its characters and lets them live the lives they've always lived before the central plot elements invaded their existence. The plot is addressed in a timely enough manner, but we see the characters have their own commitments to fulfill too. It's a hard trick to make a character driven film really work without seeming disjointed or slowly paced but Jarmush succeeds masterfully. Jarmush also fills the film with other references in the background that emphasize the character's natures-such as book on bears or the dialogue of a few cartoons here and there. Many films of try to do this, but few films I have ever seen do it as well as Ghost Dog does.
A final note, the ending of this film that is one that will be very divisive. People will either love it or hate, personally I loved it. It is an ending that is true to all that his come before for both the characters and their conflicting codes but also one that is both surprising despite being adequately foreshadowed.
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