The Last Samurai
- compiled by Jeffrey Overstreet Copyright Christianity Today International
- 2003 1 Jan
Director Edward Zwick knows his way around a war movie. He directed a longstanding favorite film of the Civil War called
The story follows the journey of an embittered U.S. cavalryman, Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise), whose service in the Union army under General Custer have left him disillusioned about the country he calls home. When a young Japanese emperor (Shichinosuke Nakamura) hires him to refurbish the Eastern nation's army so it can stand as a state-of-the-art militia, Algren takes his inner demons to another continent. There, a samurai general (Ken Watanabe) teaches him how he can pay for his past sins and learn the true meaning of honor. At least, that's what the film would have us believe.
"Unfortunately," writes David DiCerto (Catholic News Service), "despite lofty platitudes about honor, the film's gilded portrayal of the warriors' militaristic lifestyle and hail-of-bullets climax results in an at times overly romantic view of war. While proper respect should be shown to foreign customs and value systems, the notion of death before dishonor taken to such an extreme as to justify suicide rather than 'losing face' is totally inconsistent with Christianity's inviolable prohibition against the taking of one's own life. And though
While Oscar buzz begins for Tom Cruise, Michael Elliott (Movie Parables) muses that the actor is "certainly serviceable in the role but doesn't seem to bring that many layers to it. Though it is a physical performance, it isn't all that memorable."
Frederica Matthewes-Green (Our Sunday Visitor) says, "The connection between tranquil meditation and slashing through an enemy's face is not spelled out. The rebels' cause is not explained; the whole plot is a muddle."
The film receives heavy criticism in a Movieguide review credited to a committee. "Although one character tells Algren 'God speed' before the movie's climactic battle, and although the movie uplifts such values as honor, integrity, and sacrifice, [the film] has some serious worldview problems. Regrettably … the movie makes a hero out of a traitor and makes 19th Century America the villain."
Michael Medved (Crosswalk) levels an accusation at the film echoed by many mainstream critics: "
Steven Isaac (Plugged In) writes, "
In spite of all of these criticisms, Christian press critic Holly McClure (Crosswalk) says, "I am passionate about this movie for many reasons and feel it's the best epic film of 2003. This is an adult epic adventure that will satisfy those who love a story of war, heroes, and men of honor and character."
Director Zwick is drawing quite a few passionately delivered criticisms from mainstream critics as well.
David Poland (The Hot Button) says, "
Stephen Hunter (Washington Post) writes, "Under its beauty … the basic product feels lame and thin, wan and stale. It's wannabe-ism on a multimillion-dollar scale. Movies set in Japanese history should not be about handsome white people. It just feels wrong and, in the end, leaves in your mouth the taste of desecration. It's the first, and I hope last, pro-warlord movie!" Many others, however, find plenty to praise, and some are calling for Oscar.