Monday, July 3, 2023


 by Adam Riske

Nominated for “Best Male Performance” (Tom Cruise) at the MTV Movie Awards. He lost to Johnny Depp in Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl.

• Best Scene/Moment: The final battle sequence.

• Best Song: This is a tough one since I’m not a huge fan of Hans Zimmer’s score this time around and the soundtrack only features one song (“Kagura-No-Netori” by Tokyo Gakuso) which is just kinda there. I guess I’ll choose “A Hard Teacher” by Hans Zimmer, which plays over the end credits. It sounds like music you’d listen to when you get a Shiatsu massage.

• Best Merch: A pair of “The Last Samurai Movie 2003 Japanese Soldier Leg Gaiters…” for $49.00. The seller describes its condition as “Used Dirty Damaged” which is also the title of my debut album. These come with a Certificate of Authenticity. You’re gonna get a lot of gazers if you roll into your summer barbecues wearing these gaiters.
• Director Check: The Last Samurai was directed by director-producer-screenwriter Edward Zwick. Zwick is well known as an executive producer and creative force behind multiple television series including thirtysomething, Once and Again, and Nashville. His feature directorial debut was the under-discussed and good About Last Night… (starring a young Rob Lowe and Demi Moore) in 1986. The film was a success and led to a breakout hit for him with 1989’s Glory, which earned Denzel Washington his first Academy Award in their first collaboration together. Zwick became a go-to filmmaker throughout the 1990s for war/military dramas like Legends of the Fall (meh), Courage Under Fire (good), and The Siege (ugh). The Last Samurai was Zwick’s first collaboration with Tom Cruise and went on to become the director’s biggest financial success. The two worked together again on the disappointing Jack Reacher: Never Go Back in 2016. Zwick followed up The Last Samurai with a 2000s slew of okay to decent movies like Blood Diamond, Defiance, and Love & Other Drugs (in which Jake Gyllenhaal wins the Triple Crown by dating Anne Hathaway, Judy Greer, and Katheryn Winnick in the same movie) to name a few. His most recent feature was the 2018 drama Trial by Fire starring Jack O’ Connell and Laura Dern. Most recently, Zwick wrote a book about his career called Hits, Flops, and Other Illusions: My Fortysomething Years in Hollywood, which I’d like to read.

• Double It with This 2003 Movie: Timeline (both have Billy Connolly!)

• Year 2003 Movies to Trailer Before It: The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King, Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World, Pirates of the Caribbean: Curse of the Black Pearl
Draft Day or The Last Samurai? Draft Day

• Mall Movie? Nope. This movie is at the intersection of action epic and fancy pants Oscar bait, neither of which plays at the mall. This might get to the mall eventually, but not until deep in its run.

• Only in 2003: Tom Cruise throws a sword into Tony Goldwyn.

• Scene Stealer: Masato Harada.

• I Miss: Tom Cruise’s Vanilla Sky/The Last Samurai haircut. I’m jealous of it.

• I Don’t Miss: Early 2000s period action epics. I still like many of them but there were so many in the wake of Gladiator (2000).

• 2003 Crush: Koyuki Kato.

• 2023 Crush: Koyuki Kato.
• What I Thought in 2003: I thought The Last Samurai was somewhere between “fine” and “pretty good.” It was sort of a placeholder watch for me in theaters while I waited for The Lord of the Rings: Return of the King to be released a couple of weeks later.

• What I Think in 2023: The Last Samurai is okay. I appreciate the cinematography (by John Toll) & production design (by Lilly Kilvert) and the performances are strong (especially Ken Watanabe, who earned an Oscar nomination for his performance), but the film drags in the middle and Tom Cruise’s character has a predictable arc after an interesting first-act introduction. The movie feels dutiful and professional but not very passionate or engrossing. You can do a lot worse, but I wish The Last Samurai had more juice.

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