Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Fifteen, Part One – ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)

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The Premise
Film fanatics and friends
 Fred Sullivan and Yasser Akram are on a mission to watch 25 of one another’s favourite movies. Each week they will watch one movie each and then get together to discuss what they have seen. There has been a few disagreements, some indifference but plenty of mutual appreciation. Will it last as the countdown continues?

After a very satisfactory week for both men last time out, can the good ratings continue as we approach the top tens?

You can read the entries from previous week by checking out the archives on the left of the screen.

To have a look at what Fred has picked so far, click here.

Likewise, for Yasser’s choices, click here.
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Fred: This week we are looking at the last film before we are in to our top 10s. What’s your choice?

Yasser: It’s ‘The Last Samurai

‘The Last Samurai’
USA – 2003
Director: Edward Zwick
Starring: Tom Cruise, Ken Watanabe, Tony Goldwyn, Billy Connolly, Timothy Spall

FS: You picked a samurai movie a few weeks ago in ‘13 Assassins‘. What makes this better than that?

YA: This is new territory now. We are treading into a barrage of movies that I’ve seen countless times

FS: Okay. Are we in to your ‘Premier League’?

YA: I think so, yeah

FS: What brings you back to ‘The Last Samurai’ so often?

YA: When we were drawing up our lists, I had three Tom Cruise movies in my shortlist of 33 – ‘The Last Samurai’, ‘Rain Man‘ and ‘Interview with the Vampire‘. It came down to a choice between ‘Rain Man’ and ‘The Last Samurai’ and even though ‘Rain Man’ is an amazing film, it didn’t feel right not having ‘The Last Samurai’ in there

FS: So far, Yasser, I’ve asked you two questions and you haven’t answered either

YA: (laughs) Okay! ‘The Last Samurai’ is my second samurai movie, but it’s the better out of the two as there’s a lot more character development. It has epic fights and stunning on-screen battles, but there is a lot more human connection in this

FS: Is that because of Tom Cruise?

YA: Not just him, no. He’s a bit tricky. There’s some movies where he’s tragic and some roles he plays well. This is one of the movies he plays well, for me anyway. His often egotistical personality is off-putting in most films he’s made, but in this he seems more relaxed

FS: Okay…

YA: Back to not answering your questions (laughs). I don’t know why I’m justifying Tom Cruise so much. He’s a good, sometimes brilliant, physical actor, but… well… he’s Tom Cruise. In this though he’s Tom Cruise!

FS: I agree that he’s a funny one. I can’t think of a movie of his I really love. ‘Rain Man’ or ‘Magnolia‘ are probably the best but he’s been in some pretty entertaining stuff too. He comes across as quite nice in interviews, but with a definite air of arrogance

YA: He is arrogant and you can see that in most of his films. However, I find in ‘The Last Samurai’ his arrogance takes a back seat

YA: So what about the film itself? How did you find it?

FS: When it started and you have Algren (Cruise) as a drunk, disenchanted army veteran who then gets asked to train forces in Japan – that first 20-30 minutes I thought ‘Oh Yasser! You have picked another ‘Kingdom of Heaven‘ for me here’

YA: Oh dear

FS: But after Billy Connolly goes out of it, it definitely improved

YA: (laughs)

FS: He’s a terrible actor

YA: I like Billy Connolly but yes, he’s not a great actor

FS: His Irish accent was almost as bad as Cruise’s in ‘Far and Away‘ – still the benchmark for shit Irish accents

YA: (laughs)

FS: I think Tom Cruise has always struggled with the fact that he is a star and not an actor. Every now and then he makes an effort at proving as all wrong and I think this was one such attempt

YA: Did he pull it off for you?

FS: Not really. It felt like a bit of a vanity project. There are lots of shots of Cruise looking enigmatic and that sort of thing

YA: So Billy Connolly is written out, Cruise gets captured by Samurai… then what?

FS: Ken Watanabe turns up, and his character is much more interesting. He sees his way of life dying and he wants to do something about it. I enjoyed his performance

YA: I did too. Cruise may be the star but the supporting cast is better. Watanabe’s performance has a refined grace to it. He shows many more dimensions than Cruise. He brings humour, sarcasm, philosophy, poetry, leadership and a pious nature. He commands respect. Without him this film wouldn’t even have made the list

FS: He’s effortlessly better than Cruise. With Tom Cruise, it feels like he’s always trying his absolute hardest. Nothing is natural. Everything feels fake

YA: Yeah, but that awkward nature helped his character. He’s totally out of place in Japan

FS: That’s not really what I’m driving at. When he’s drunk, in distress, even when he’s laughing, it’s all very unnatural and forced. Being a fish out of water is one thing, but to have the character’s emotions so obviously put on is not good

YA: Oh no. This is going to be another shit score (laughs)

FS: It did get a bit more exciting once Algren was captured. The battle scenes and the fight training were quite exciting. The opening half hour was just a catalogue of bad acting. The bit where the Japanese troops go into battle unprepared was the first good bit. The scene immediately prior to that, when Algren is training the Japanese was the nadir. At that point I thought you might have a 1/10 on your hands

YA: That does not sound good

YA: What did you make of the people in the Samurai village?

FS: They didn’t make much of an impression on me. I thought the sub-plot with Algren, Taka (Koyuki) and her children was a bit laboured. There was obviously animosity from the villagers towards Algren but it was spoilt with all the cheesy, contrived scenes like the one where he has to fight in the rain and gets battered

YA: Ah mate. I love that scene

FS: It was so clichéd. It was like ‘The Karate Kid‘ or something

YA: What did you like then?

FS: I enjoyed the climactic battle. In fact the large-scale fight scenes were well done. The ninja attack on the village, for instance, and Katsumoto’s (Watanabe) escape from jail

YA: I think Zwick has a certain style which he shows in the battle scenes

FS: This is the hardest film to talk about so far, for me. There seems to be faults with everything and they undermine the good stuff. I look back and think that I enjoyed the film, but for every good performance there was a bit of bad writing or direction, and for every good scene there was some bad CGI or crap acting

YA: Okay. Something you loved, I’m sure, was Hans Zimmer’s score… please?

FS: I knew you’d bring this up as I know you love Hans Zimmer. I had to laugh as during the film I thought to myself ‘Fucking hell! The music is doing my head in. It’s awful. I wonder who wrote it?‘ When I saw it was Zimmer I thought ‘Oh God! Poor Yasser

Yasser begins rocking back and forth

FS: Background music should enhance a film without you ever really noticing it’s there. I don’t think he did that

YA: I’m not happy. All the things I like about the film, you’re finding fault with

FS: Here’s you last chance to convince me why it’s great

YA: If you look at the Hollywood perspective of Japan before this, you can tell the producers and directors didn’t personally research it. They had people to ‘educate’ them. But ‘The Last Samurai’ feels authentic as though the history and culture of Japan had been researched. The moment Algren steps off the boat, there is plenty of intricate detail that helped it feel like Japan

FS: Okay, good…

YA: There were other scenes – the blossom trees, the hills – that gave the movie a feeling of peace when it was required, as opposed to the scenes where you see Algren struggling with his demons, for example the exchange in the rain

FS: You felt, then, that there was a visual representation of what Algren was striving for, even though he didn’t know it himself?

YA: Yeah. The director was very apt at representing Algren’s journey through the scenery. I thought the relationship between Algren and Katsumoto was awesome. There was a respect between them, even though Katsumoto had the upper hand in the village. The ideals and lifestyle of the Samurai, their dedication in everything they do, their spiritual, physical and mental training is appealing, and I think Katsumoto embodies those various parts of a samurai’s life. Ken Watanabe is perfect as him

FS: He was the best actor in the film. Anything else

YA: I find the music mirrors the tone of the movie. It’s uplifting when it needs to be, but ominous and dark when required. It helps you understand Algren’s struggles with his demons

FS: Well I don’t agree with that

YA: The thing I like the most, though, is that the film has an epic philosophy behind it. It asks questions and tries to find answers, from beginning to end

FS: I think that’s the most important thing about a film for you. As long as it tries to say something about a universal problem, you like it. As I said a couple of weeks back, I am all for movies with a message, but that doesn’t excuse a dull script, clichéd direction and bad acting

YA: We’re obviously not seeing eye-to-eye so sum up and rate it

FS: 30 minutes into this, I thought ‘Film Club’ was heading for its first 1/10. The combination of Tom Cruise’s unnatural style of acting, where everything is very forced and deliberate, Billy Connolly’s accent and a generally slow beginning, littered with clichéd moments and stilted dialogue, really gave the film an uphill struggle to avoid being rated very low. At the very moment I was ready to write it off, the training scene, we switched to the first battle scene where the Samurai are first introduced. Suddenly, everything changed and there was excitement and the story got my attention. Ken Watanabe was the stand out performer by some distance and he kept me interested in how his relationship with Cruise played out. Ultimately, the film was hampered by all the good things being cancelled out by bad things. Those scenes that were well-directed could be ruined by the heavy-handed score, a good actor was given rubbish lines to say, things like that. It was better than ‘Kingdom of Heaven’, but worse than ’13 Assassins’. I’d never watch it again so it’s getting 4/10

YA: Okay, we are not talking again today (laughs)

Later this week: Fred’s number 11, ‘Inherit the Wind’

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6 thoughts on “Fred and Yasser’s Film Club: Week Fifteen, Part One – ‘The Last Samurai’ (2003)

    […] 11. The Last Samurai (2003) […]

    […] Shall we talk about some good stuff before you start doing the ‘Hans Zimmer rock‘ in your […]

    […] every line as if it was the most important thing anyone had ever said. Like Tom Cruise in ‘The Last Samurai‘, it was all very forced and […]

    […] They are, but I think the majority of people would do a double-take at someone who had ‘The Last Samurai‘ in their top twelve, but thought ‘Singin’ in the Rain’ scraped […]

    […] I hadn’t recently watched some of your other choices like ‘Fearless‘ and ‘The Last Samurai‘ that have similar […]

    […] ‘Fearless‘, ‘The Last Samurai‘ and ‘13 Assassins‘. Maybe the first two of the ‘Lord of the Rings‘ […]

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