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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Released: 1999

Genre: Action & Adventure

Runtime: 1 hr 55 min

MPAA Rating: R

Director: Jim Jarmusch

Starring: Forest Whitaker, Cliff Gorman, John Tormey, Dennis Liu, Richard Portnow, Tricia Vessey, Frank Minucci

The mysterious "Ghost Dog", an African-American hitman in the employ of the Mafia, who follows the ancient code of the samurai as outlined in the book of Yamamoto Tsunetomo's recorded sayings, Hagakure.

The film works best when it goes for dead-pan comedy.

Review by: SteveRhodes

Added: 8 years ago

Writer/director Jim Jarmusch's movies are frequently described as an acquired taste, as in a taste that most viewers will never have nor care to. Personally, I have found some of his movies (DEAD MAN) absolutely mesmerizing and worth many viewings and others (STRANGER THAN PARADISE) almost unwatchable. His latest, GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI, falls somewhere in-between for me.

Blending equal parts of movies such as THE SEVEN SAMURAI, GOODFELLAS, BOYZ N THE HOOD and HIGH NOON, GHOST DOG tells the story of a modern-day samurai named Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker). Ghost Dog, a ghetto-dwelling owner of carrier pigeons, works as the retainer of a Mafioso master, Louie (John Tormey), who once saved his life. Having done a dozen contract killings with absolute perfection, Ghost Dog is an ideal employee.

The story has the mob hunting down Ghost Dog when one of his contracts goes bad, through no fault of his own.

As the movie advances, it stops regularly for long passages of the samurai code to be displayed on the screen. These are read in voice-over by Ghost Dog, who tries to live his life according to the beliefs of the samurai. ("Matters of great concern should be treated lightly. Matters of small concern should be taken seriously.") The problem with the passages is that many are obtuse, and frequently their relationship to the action is relatively minimal.

The film works best when it goes for dead-pan comedy. "They whacked him," one of the wise guys remarks to another after a close relative is killed. "What are you gonna do?" This fatalistic humor resonates with the audience, but it doesn't occur nearly often enough. The visuals of the "made men", who've never met a cannoli they didn't like, trying to run up stairs are funny, as are the scenes of these would-be sumo wrestlers bonding with each other with lots of bear hugs.

Is there a market for self-consciously stylish movies about gangsters if the films operate in what seems like slow-motion? Jarmusch's die hard fans will certainly want to see GHOST DOG. To the others who find themselves watching it, they may think that Jarmusch got one of the samurai rules ("Emptiness is form.") turned around.

GHOST DOG: THE WAY OF THE SAMURAI runs 1:55. It is rated R for strong violence and language and would be acceptable for older teenagers.