Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

R   |    |  Action, Crime, Drama


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999) Poster

An African-American Mafia hit man who models himself after the samurai of old finds himself targeted for death by the mob.

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7.5/10
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  • Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Forest Whitaker and Camille Winbush in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)
  • Forest Whitaker in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

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8 January 2006 | brainofj72
7
| Out of Character For Jarmusch
Ghost Dog certainly is an intriguing film. It breaks some new ground for writer/director Jim Jarmusch, who usually creates simple, funny, and heartfelt black and white films with many underlying themes. Ghost Dog is one of his few color films, and it is also the most out of character picture he has made to date. Instead of a slow-paced comedic drama, Ghost Dog is a slow-paced bloody crime film.

The plot deals with Ghost Dog (Whitaker), an expert mafia assassin living in present-day New York City who lives his life according to the ancient code of the Samurai.

Jarmusch somewhat reverses what Akira Kurosawa did in Throne of Blood by bringing Eastern culture to a Western setting. It's a rather fascinating idea, but I can't help but feel that Jarmusch kind of falls into a trap he teeters on almost constantly in his films: while he's so busy creating a slow, brooding atmosphere and interweaving subtle underlying themes, he occasionally forgets that this is still a movie. He still needs to keep the audience entertained. Ghost Dog sometimes moves so slowly that one becomes a little bit bored and anxious.

Another thing that doesn't work particularly well in Ghost Dog are Jarmusch's signature scenes of off-beat humor that often just come completely out of nowhere. They usually work quite well, such as Iggy Pop's and Billy Bob Thornton's blackly funny scene in Dead Man, but they just feel awkward here. E.g., Jarmusch develops a very peculiar group of gangsters in Ghost Dog, gangsters who think they're straight out of GoodFellas but are so incompetent that they can't even pay their rent nor figure out who they're trying to "whack". This is often quite amusing, but sometimes Jarmusch just goes over the top, such as when he makes one of the fifty-something Italian gangsters begin going on about how he loves rap and even start rapping his favorite verses right in the middle of a meeting of criminals. It's just uncomfortable.

Still, there's plenty to like here, and there are quite a few homages for avid film-lovers to spot, such as a cool little nod to the butterfly scene in Seijun Suzuki's Branded To Kill. Also, the acting is often spot-on. Forest Whitaker is absolutely perfect as Ghost Dog - detached, subtle, nuanced, and, most importantly, human.

Still, I hesitate to recommend this film. Jim Jarmusch is most definitely an acquired taste, but even his fans may find their patience tried during Ghost Dog.

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