SAMURAI EPIC THE LAST SAMURAI (15) 153min .00
Samurai movies appear to be like buses: you wait an age for one, then three arrive at once. Sandwiched between Quentin Tarantino’s two volume take on the Eastern cinema genre, Kill Bill, is The Last Samurai, directed by Edward Zwick (Glory, Legends of the Fall), a life-long fan of Akira Seven Samurai Kurosawa. Zwick’s film, as co-written by Gladiator scribe John Logan and produced by its star Tom Cruise, isn’t as concerned with swordplay as Kill Bill (or, for that matter, the forthcoming and superb Takeshi Kitano samurai film, Zatoichr). Instead, The Last Samurai fills its lengthy running time with the related themes of honour and dishonour in battle and corresponding traditional and modern methods of warfare. Towards the end of the 19th century, Japan experienced the end of the rule of the old Shogunate and the tradition-bound country’s first encounter with the West after 200 years of self-imposed isolation. Modernising bureaucrats take advantage of the weak-willed young emperor and negotiate trade agreements with America and Europe. But one samurai, still in loyal life-long service to his emperor, Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe, playing a character loosely based on the historical figure, Saigo Takamori), rebels against the ruling bureaucrats, which prompts them to seek military aid from America. That arrives in the form of Civil War veteran Captain Nathan Algren (Cruise). Algren is hired to train the emperor’s army in modern warfare and, arming the soldiers with firearms, is charged with
bringing Katsumoto to justice.
But Algren, a bitter, cynical drunk since serving with General Custer in his inglorious campaign to extinguish the native American, finds he has more respect for the honourable samurai than the Westernised way that previously sickened him in America.
Thus the film sets up a series of (perhaps too neat) comparisons and juxtapositions between East and West, Algren and Katsumoto. Algren’s twin experiences in America and Japan start to feel a little laboured when a comparison is drawn between the Native American tradition of scalping their victims and the hacking off of the hair knot of a newly outlawed samurai warrior.
Nevertheless, The Last Samurai is a handsomely mounted production. John Toll’s (The Thin Red Line) cinematography does justice to the beautiful Japanese landscapes, while the period detail and production design are eye-pleasingly rich.
The battle scenes also impress. The climactic fight between Katsumoto’s sword-wielding warriors (now accompanied by an I-know-kung fu Algren) and the emperor’s Howitzer-assisted army references at least three historical movie conflicts from The 300 Spartans, The Charge of the Light Brigade; and, of course, Custer’s last stand in Raoul Walsh’s terrific They Died With Their Boots On.
No prizes for guessing who the last samurai standing is. (Miles Fielder)
I General release from Fri 5) Jan.
GIRL WITH A PEARL EARRING
(12A) 95min .0
28 THE LIST 3 2"? war 1
Beauty made unexceptional
Adapted from the book by Tracy Chevalrer. Peter Webber ‘s sumptuoust upholstered lrlrn deals wrth the story behrnd the creatron of Vermeer's famous parntrng. whrch now hangs rn the Hague. Amsterdam. A fresh faced Scarlett Johansson plays the vrrgrnal teenager Grret who rs employed to help out at Vermeers house. whrle the great artrst works to please hrs patron Van RurJven (Tom erkrnsonr. And rn a brt of remarkable mrscastrng. Colrn Frrth. a domestrc brand leadrng man wrth lrttle rntensrty or mystery rn hrs body. tr‘res to play Vermeer as an rntense and enrgmatrc frgure. but ends up fallrng back on a perplexed expressron of a spanrel \.'-.ronderrng where rt's burred a hone.
l very frame of the frlm rs beautrlul. carefully Irt lrke a work of
frne art. but rronrcally enough. thrs plethora of beauty makes the artrst's vrsron seem less exceptronal. In a world rn whrch beauty drrps from every open wrndow. Vermeer's remarkable abrirty to Judge and capture lrght seems less rmpressrve: rt mrght have sewed the purpose of the drama better if we could see hrm strarn for effect. or we saw flashes of hrs art rllumrnatrng a drab world ()therwrse. thrs rs a convoluted story of ‘master and mard'. whrch functrons more as a classy bodrcerrrpper than any krnd of hrgh art. s slrght and coy as rts herorne. Girl rut/r a Pearl Earring shares too much of rts hero's concern for pretty prctures to uncover much drama.
rl .ddre l-larrrsonr
I Selected release from Fir re Jan.
DRAMA OKAY (15) 93min .0.
Nete (Paprika Steen) rs a control freak. At 35 years old she runs such a tight ship in her work and at home that all anyone around her can do is sguirm under her fascist rule. And then her estranged. widowed father is grven a few weeks to Irve. In a wave of gurlt Nete forces hrm. against hrs wrshes. to come and Irve with her family. The old man's presence in the flat slowly begins to erode everythrng that Nete has so neurotrcally burlt and thrngs begin to fer zrr);rrt.
Okay is a new Danish film that, remarkably. doesn't harl from any Dogme movement pedrgree (although Steen was in Thomas Vinterberg's Feslenr. The film has clearly been written for Steen. So acutely does she dornrnate her role. it really rs a brillrant performance. every drawn cigarette and screaming match is delrvered wrth the natural brle of a woman who has built a prrson of drstrust that she is now struggling to escape from.
Control freakery and life lessons
Despite the gualrty of Steen's performance. the frlm suffers from several major flaws. Whrle Nete's character rs beautrfully drawn. the other characters rn the frlm are sketched rn coal: weak dreamer husband. angry oppressed daughter. mrsanthrope, fatalrstrc dad who actually really cares and cornpulsrve obsessrve gay brother. Krrn FUD/ Aakeson's screenplay rs a basrc lesson rn how to mask soap opera wrth a sheen of rnrld eccentrrcrty. Also. whoever composed the musrc. partrcularly the sung rnterludes. really needs to be hung from the hrghest tree.
(Paul Daler I Film/rouse. Fd/nburg/r from In lo‘ Jan.