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8 reviews, 68 user ratings

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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
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by Rob Gonsalves

"Give it up for Ghost Dog. RESPECT."
5 stars

The idiosyncratic director Jim Jarmusch spent some of the '90s drifting into mainstream genres: his major films of that decade were, respectively, a Western and an urban gangster drama.

Yet nobody could really think of 1996's Dead Man and 2000's Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai, in those reductive terms. Jarmusch has developed a taste for iconic loners -- men who find themselves drawn into violence, "writing poetry with blood," to paraphrase the Native American sage Nobody from Dead Man. It's probably no accident that both films, from their titles to their sadly resigned heroes, are preoccupied with mortality. Yet both are also, viewed together in context, two of the driest deadpan comedies ever made. With a straight face, Jarmusch places cherry bombs under the cliches of the genre, while seriously attending to the larger themes that the explosions open up.

On the surface, of course, Ghost Dog is simply one of the coolest movies to come down the pike in years. Stylistically, the film is smooth and immaculate: Robby Muller's lush dark photography and the propulsive hip-hop soundtrack by the RZA mesh beautifully. When Forest Whitaker strolls down the street carrying his case full of weapons, it's hard not to draw a direct line between his Ghost Dog and Toshiro Mifune (and every iconic figure, from Eastwood's Man with No Name to El Mariachi, that Mifune and Kurosawa inspired). Yet Ghost Dog isn't just a stoic hard-ass; he loves his pigeons, and he likes ice cream -- there's a wonderful shot of the imposing assassin sitting on a park bench nibbling a cone. A group of rappers nearby seem to be paying homage to him -- everyone in the hood apparently knows and respects him -- and there's an odd little dog who shuffles over and stares at him. Jarmusch loves these obscure little touches; he likes working with a genuine man of mystery, an unknowable assassin who has taken the code of the samurai to heart (we never really find out why) and reminds himself daily that he must die.

Ghost Dog has pledged his life and services to a rather unremarkable master -- Louie (John Tormey), a saggy Italian mobster who saved Ghost Dog's life years ago. Ghost Dog carries out hits for Louie and his Mafia crew until a mishandled kill provokes the wrath of the top guys (Cliff Gorman, a 50-something gangster who loves Public Enemy, and Henry Silva, who never loses his skull-like scowl even when watching cartoons). So the mob puts out a hit on Ghost Dog -- he's too weird anyway, too much of a loose cannon, even though he has performed twelve "perfect hits."

This is what Jarmusch offers by way of a plot. But Ghost Dog is more about mood and moments -- the tenderness that develops between Ghost Dog and a bookworm little girl in the park (Camille Winbush); the unlikely but strangely touching friendship of Ghost Dog and an immigrant who drives an ice cream truck (Isaach De Bankolé), who don't even speak the same language; the way Ghost Dog makes car theft look as easy as operating a cell phone (he always picks fancy cars with kick-ass stereo systems); the dedication with which he practices with a sword we never see him use; the sight of Mafia guys in their sixties wheezing up a flight of stairs to whack Ghost Dog (this particular crew seems to include nobody under, say, 55); Forest Whitaker's sad, eloquently still features, which are brightened by a warm smile more often than you expect -- Jarmusch could not have picked a more soulful actor to play this samurai who seems to belong to no particular century.

Greil Marcus, writing for Salon's online magazine not long ago, worked up a list of top ten reasons why Dead Man was the ideal movie for the end of the century; he and I are probably the only ones who enjoyed that film, with its soporific pace occasionally shattered by repulsive violence (who can forget Lance Henriksen crushing a man's head under his heavy boot?). Dead Man was a slow, meditative essay on the brutality of Western "civilization"; Ghost Dog is a less leisurely paced second chapter. Ghost Dog, like all the heroic mass murderers before him, takes no pleasure in his prowess or his killing; it's just his duty. The movie's tongue-in-cheek treatment of racial relations is probably more sophisticated than anything in Romeo Must Die, which seems thrown together to please all sections of the urban market. Its brooding on life and death, and the gray area in between, is more probing than anything in The Matrix, and it doesn't need kicky Oscar-winning special effects, either.

Like "Run Lola Run," "Ghost Dog" is a cool art-house artifact -- deceptively simple eye candy that invites analysis and defies classification.

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=2140&reviewer=416
originally posted: 12/27/06 20:34:39
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User Comments

4/14/17 Volvo245ls A movie with a brain, a heart set in the world of today. Forrest Whittaker is perfect 5 stars
9/14/13 swlabr5 Ghost Dog's electronics and plumbing skills are unmatched in the annals of cinema. 4 stars
7/06/12 Mr. G One of the worst movies ever made! Stupid and boring. Flipping the gun like a katana? OMG 1 stars
12/16/09 the dork knight if you're gonna make another mob drama, you may as well make it unique 5 stars
11/19/09 sunandmoon "artsy" film for men. the perfect mix ofcontrasting characters make it thought provoking 5 stars
5/29/08 Reza Tayebi The story could be a lot better but overall good. 3 stars
11/28/07 Mike Hunt i was deceived by the video cover art, forrest in a c-grade actioner? 5 stars
5/10/07 DJR A lot of subtle humor if you look for it 5 stars
4/15/07 no one this movie captures the essence of integrity in hopelessness 5 stars
2/04/07 Susan I agree with every word of the review 5 stars
11/21/06 Matthew Nicol Luckily it was saved by the awesome action sequences. 3 stars
6/15/06 Reklc Modern day samurai, and he's black?!!! Now that's an idea! 5 stars
3/19/06 Daniel Maloney It stunk, possibly the worst movie i have ever seen. Easily comparable to being in hell! 1 stars
4/12/05 Ronin Unique style. Very very good movie 4 stars
10/03/04 Daveman There's an indie sincerity that belies its dumb, sophomoric pretensions, not too bad. 3 stars
8/09/04 Jeff Not Forrest Whitakers best, and flipping the gun around like a damned sword was too much 3 stars
7/08/04 The FRIESOR A totally original masterpiece, molded together by layers of mysticism 5 stars
2/22/04 john I found it rather shallow and pretentious and very boring 1 stars
9/27/03 Thomas John Absolutely Badass, gr8 flick 5 stars
8/13/03 Yousif Foolad Believable, sympathetic and, yes, cool. 5 stars
7/17/03 Vartanoosh Kiourktzian This movie is unlike any I've ever seen(maybe a remake of Le Samourai). Brilliant! 5 stars
6/19/03 Jack Bourbon Ghost Dog isn't really about a guy trying to be some "cool" samurai. 4 stars
3/12/03 Artist Freak This movie RULES. Great visual style, multi-layered storytelling, moody, funny, subtle. 5 stars
3/07/03 Jack Sommersby Pretentious crap. Jarmusch is search of a worthy subject. 2 stars
10/25/02 Morally Sound Brilliant dialog and brilliant direction! A kick ass mafia movie! 5 stars
10/04/02 James Understated and Quiet, Striking 5 stars
5/14/02 erick beautifully made movie. sometimes hilarious, sometimes depressing. see it 5 stars
4/02/02 Bill a genius film that will surely stand the test of time 5 stars
3/31/02 Joe Schulz I will be killing myself shortly 1 stars
3/27/02 George Unbelievably original, very cool, awesome concept - great execution and good acting! 5 stars
1/24/02 Andrew Carden A Total Waste Of Good Talent and Direction. 1 stars
10/18/01 Danzi One of the best .... just go and see it - NOW !! 5 stars
10/03/01 groodude take a chance. Watch this movie and expand your mind 5 stars
9/02/01 Butterbean I was expecting Forest to look stupid, like Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. I was impressed 4 stars
7/19/01 MiS^DeMeAnOr beware the pigeon ninja 1 stars
7/15/01 Steven Webster This movie changed me, the fascinating plot & Whitaker's amazing performance astounded me. 5 stars
7/02/01 The Stuff Finally a black intellectual who's no a side kick. Al la Brother From Another Planet! 5 stars
6/13/01 Final Trunks Provokes many deep thoughts, an exceptionally fascinating 'stream of consciousness' film. 4 stars
6/12/01 canuck Wow, Whitaker plays an obviously deranged and possibly psychopathic guy with fragility. 5 stars
4/06/01 Nero Henrickson Best Jarmusch film I've seen. 5 stars
2/21/01 Michael Grimm It's a shame this movie too intelligent for most of America, shame on you!!! 5 stars
2/19/01 Rob Quimby Note the relation between dog and god. No coincidence. 5 stars
2/19/01 Mark Quinn Deep 5 stars
1/20/01 martin Beltinger coole meinung fritz!! 1 stars
12/23/00 Bev Clark Subtle, clever but incredibly stylised. Forrest Whittaker is brilliant 4 stars
11/23/00 jb Just excellent but a bit too much intelligent for the middle America man 5 stars
11/21/00 Ed Fucking Awesome sums it up nicely 5 stars
11/13/00 Andrew I. Complete waste of $3.50 and 2 hours. NOT intelligent. NOT unique. Just garbage 1 stars
9/16/00 The Bomb 69 glad to see something different come out of hollywood for a change 5 stars
9/16/00 Lux Interior Jarmusch on the Wu Tang tip-- complex, hardcore, and satisfying 4 stars
8/28/00 Add Very nice, slow but well paced and involving. An enlighted movie that alot could learn from 4 stars
6/26/00 stranded on the Island If you're in the mood for something different, you won't find much better than this! 5 stars
6/15/00 JonnyA worth watching fo' sho' 4 stars
5/27/00 Fritz Beltinger This movie sucks 1 stars
5/13/00 gwalla See this movie. Many many times. 5 stars
4/23/00 Nadine Eugene What where they thing when thry pushed this out 1 stars
4/09/00 syd great character, lame storyline 3 stars
4/09/00 Klute Takes brains to figure out what this one is trying to say. But it's well worth it. 5 stars
4/06/00 GDB pffft 1 stars
4/03/00 PJ You thought Stranger Than Paradise was brilliant, see this movie, poignant. 5 stars
3/30/00 Heather See this movie or die! 5 stars
3/28/00 Power and Equality Holy Crap! The Slow pace actually led it's way to an ass kicking movie. 5 stars
3/24/00 Dr. Rev. Krule, MD It has been so long since i've seen a movie of this Calliber 5 stars
3/24/00 malcolm kurosawa meets tarantino. entertaining on many levels. 4 stars
3/18/00 camk Saw it in France, can't wait to see it here when the theater execs pull their heads out 5 stars
3/10/00 Mr Glute Just awesome. It won't make lots of money, but it makes you think. 5 stars
3/06/00 SomeGuy Great characters, great story. See it! 5 stars
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