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Overall Rating
4.09

Awesome52.73%
Worth A Look: 23.83%
Just Average: 8.98%
Pretty Crappy: 8.98%
Sucks: 5.47%

11 reviews, 190 user ratings


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Last Samurai, The
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by Alexandre Paquin

"Dishonest, Americanized account of Japanese history"
3 stars

Edward Zwick's film "The Last Samurai" is award-conscious -- too much, in fact, for its own good. Unlike its inspiration, Zwick's American Civil War film "Glory," "The Last Samurai" is blinded by traditional star power, and because of that, it ends up as little more than a Tom Cruise vehicle with the occasional full-blooded aside. "Lawrence of Arabia," it is often said, drowned its eponymous character amid the scenery; in comparison, "The Last Samurai"'s star occupies centre stage, and no matter how interesting the story around him becomes, Cruise refuses to budge -- even as the scenery and extras around him go down in pieces. The result is that everything, even Japanese history, is tailored and whitewashed to benefit the star at the expense of the film.

In what is essentially Dances With Wolves-meets-Shogun, Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is recruited by the Emperor of Japan's emissary to train the new Imperial Army in the use of modern military equipment. In the meantime, Japan faces rebellion from samurai, the now-scorned traditional warrior class. In an attempt to stem the revolt, Algren's superior officer and nemesis, Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn), orders a detachment of the untrained new army to ship out to protect the Japanese railway system -- with predictably disastrous results. Although the samurai fight using only traditional methods and spurn the use of firearms, they easily rout the Imperial Army, wreaking havoc upon the retreating troops. Our hero, taken prisoner by the samurai, quickly develops the usual Hollywood version of the Stockholm syndrome, befriends rebel leader Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), and decides to fight for the underdog to the bitter end.

Although the culture clash theme has been treated dozens of times before, there was a palpable possibility to make the material at hand very acceptable if not outstanding. However, The Last Samurai leaves much to be desired; there is really nothing in there that James Clavell has not already covered, and the film is not that much different from the author's Shogun -- westernized and, in the end, quite simplistic. Clavell, for all his faults as a writer, including the deadly sin of wordiness, at least could convey scope. Zwick, as much as he might try, does not quite achieve this. In fact, John Toll's cinematography and Hans Zimmer's haunting score contribute more to the film than anything Zwick has to offer.

Shogun, which is based on real historical characters, almost qualified as fictionalized history; Zwick's film, unfortunately, is fiction disguised as history. If there had been records of a Captain Nathan Algren who had actually fought alongside the samurai, it might have been possible to forgive director and screenwriters for putting so much emphasis on Cruise's character. However, as can easily be guessed, it was impossible to find a single historical reference to a U.S. officer by the name of Algren, or by any other name for that matter, who went to Japan in the 1870s and switched sides to fight with the samurai. But obviously an all-Japanese film would not have sold as well, and the decision to add an American officer to the story was, no doubt, commercially motivated.

The hollow addition of Algren is not the film's only instance of historical manipulation, undoubtedly to heighten the feeling that the samurai fight a doomed, quixotic battle against modernism. Just as there is no historical Captain Algren, there is no historical samurai rebel leader named Katsumoto. At best, Katsumoto is an amalgam of various historical characters; at worst he is completely fictitious. If we assume that Algren was the "last" samurai in Japanese history, common sense dictates that Katsumoto is based on samurai Saigo Takamori -- a fact confirmed by Zwick on the film's official website. Unfortunately, Saigo's real life seemed too dull, too Japanese, or, probably, too controversial to warrant central position in a major Hollywood film. Saigo, who had reached the rank of commander in chief in the Imperial Army, relinquished all his government titles except his military rank and retired to Kagoshima, where he trained other samurai in the art of war. It must be added that he had resigned because the Japanese government tried to maintain good relations with the West, while Saigo was profoundly conservative, opposed foreign influence, and advocated the invasion of Korea. In comparison, Katsumoto's pedigree might as well have been that of an Oxonian with a potential career at Lloyd's of London.

As well, while some samurai used only traditional methods in their rebellion against the government, Saigo realized the futility of eschewing of modern weaponry. His revolt was officially launched when some of his students tried to prevent the Japanese Navy from removing Kagoshima's ammunition stores -- which he promptly appropriated. The Satsuma Rebellion, as Saigo's uprising became to be known, was a very serious threat, not some quaint, romantic lost cause; its leader's ultimate failure was the result of bad strategy and critical shortage of ammunition, not because of karma or adherence to tradition.

Viewers who have seen the 1936 version of The Charge of the Light Brigade, or Hollywood's romanticized account of Custer's last stand in They Died With Their Boots On (1942), in which the gallant general sacrifices himself to save the lives of more soldiers, will not be surprised by The Last Samurai's whitewashing of history for plot purposes. It would have been impossible, after all, to side with a man who advocated every course of action Japan eventually pursued right until 1945. In other words, if Zwick and the screenwriters had depicted history as it really happened, the film would never have worked from a purely dramatic standpoint. As The Last Samurai stands, it is almost impossible not to sympathize with Cruise and his pessimistic band of katana-wielding sidekicks in their hopeless enterprise. Had the truth been told, it would undoubtedly have been otherwise.

Just as as if inevitable defeat was not enough to convince us of the worthiness of the samurai's cause, the film constantly refers to an old grudge Algren has towards Colonel Bagley as a potential secondary cause for the former's defection. This is not the only cliché. The Last Samurai features a fight against ninjas and a daring rescue of Katsumoto, scenes that fit perfectly into Shogun but that seem out of place in a drama with historical pretensions. As well, Katsumoto's escape from Tokyo could hardly have been successful under the circumstances. The Tokyo-Nagasaki telegraph network had been completed in 1873, and unless the samurai had managed to cut the line on their way back, it would have been very easy for authorities to communicate the news of Katsumoto's escape ahead and stop his flight.

Zwick's film, however, is not without merit. For some reason, the sequence I remember best is not the film's last battle or its grand finale, but the image of a few samurai standing still while being photographed by Algren's interpreter Simon Graham (Timothy Spall). That scene lasts only a few seconds, but it is the perfect juxtaposition of the traditional and the modern, as well as a poignant reminder that the samurai were part of a vanishing way of life which had to be recorded for posterity before it was too late. Graham, who has more knowledge of Japan than Algren or any other foreigner in the film, is, interestingly enough, is the most developed character. He not only narrates the beginning and ending of the film; he also becomes the recipient, in a moment right out of Glory, of Algren's journals before the final battle, and the chronicler of the downfall of a proud heritage.

There is much to like about The Last Samurai; unfortunately, there is also much to dislike about it. Manipulative, dishonest, America-centric, star-struck, award-conscious (though relatively unpretentious in most other respects), formulaic -- all those qualificatives apply to Zwick's film. Nevertheless, it manages to get away with the majority of these through its appealing but overly romanticized setting, a charismatic star, a strong supporting cast, and high technical know-how. Its success, however, might perpetuate the long-lasting tradition of rewriting history to fit the plot's requirements.

Note on the sources: The main source for this review has been the last chapter in Stephen R. Turnbull's "The Book of the Samurai." The real-life inspiration for James Clavell's "Shogun" is the subject of Giles Milton's "Samurai William."

link directly to this review at http://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=8374&reviewer=287
originally posted: 12/26/03 01:33:11
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User Comments

9/13/17 morris campbell boring imho 1 stars
2/17/16 Richard Pierro Outstanding 5 stars
11/16/15 A Korean Ridiculous. The Imperial troopers had a year to train, but can'take hit a guy with a bow an 2 stars
12/29/11 Jeff Wilder Formulaic in spots. But still worthy. Better than Dances With Wolves. 4 stars
6/01/11 Bethany Pairitz Great great great movie 5 stars
1/23/11 Ziman One of the best reviews I have read. Thank you very much; I do share your thoughts about it 1 stars
1/10/11 DanRiaz Fantastic film, very moving in parts - highly recommended - ignore any bad reviews! 5 stars
5/13/10 Mamady Nice movie mayng 4 stars
4/10/10 David Very Moving, A Fantastic movie. 5 stars
3/16/10 PAUL SHORTT SPECTACULAR, SATISFYING EPIC 3 stars
6/07/09 the dork knight Liked it better when it was Dances With Wolves. 4 stars
3/10/09 Jimmy Awesome! Action scenes were right on-point, too. Check it out! 5 stars
2/04/09 Faraz J Awesome. Worthy of a repeat. 5 stars
1/26/09 LYNDON DOWLING KEN WANNABE AND HIS SAMURI, AWSOME ACTING , AWSOME FILM. KEN AND TOM DID THEAR OWN STUNTS. 5 stars
10/24/08 Gloria D. Great scenes, I really liked this film 4 stars
10/07/08 Shaun Wallner I really enjoyed this film. 5 stars
9/04/08 Rachel Better than expected, but still do not buy Tommy Cruise as a Samurai warrior. 4 stars
8/27/08 michael thomas excellent movie loved it enough to see it 2 times in the theater and even bought the dvd 5 stars
7/03/08 Alex Thorne A Tom Cruise film i actually like!. a wonderful, soulful film 5 stars
5/13/08 daveyt despite my better judgement on what's 'good' I love it...! 5 stars
3/28/08 Pamela White Wonderful redeeming of a person in spite of himself 5 stars
6/11/07 al smith a true epic in every sense of the word should have won loads of oscars 5 stars
2/06/07 AJ Muller Spectacular. Thrilling action and honest emotion make for a true epic. 5 stars
12/12/06 MP Bartley An ego trip for Cruise, and too self-important, but still packs an epic zing and punch. 4 stars
6/18/06 R.W.Welch Oriental actioner has fine camera work tho ending is too Hollywood. 4 stars
5/11/06 ES I wish I lived in that time and in that place 5 stars
3/27/06 Monster W. Kung A piece of crap! 2 stars
2/20/06 Agent Sands Beautiful. 5 stars
12/15/05 Rey Emmanuel "Paloy" A. Dabatian It Is soooooooooo GOOd 5 stars
11/21/05 Kurtis J. Beard Epic albeit contrived. Swept me away. Just don't think too hard. 4 stars
11/15/05 cooler I loved it.Epic music and a backdrop to some of the most spectacular battles ever filmed. 5 stars
11/14/05 Quigley a very violent movie, but well acted & well made. Cruise wasn't all bad; fighting was cool 5 stars
10/06/05 Wisamane wow this movie was incredible, Very Creative Story it will blow your mind to shit!!! 5 stars
9/19/05 Jonathon Holmes the best film of 2003 5 stars
9/07/05 Ric A few over-the-top moments ring false, but it's an otherwise rousing battle epic. 5 stars
8/23/05 loscemo I liked it but didn't love it. The buddy-buddy ending felt too hollywood to me. 3 stars
8/20/05 chris hagopian It was emotional, with excellent acting 4 stars
8/19/05 Carolyn Rathburn It was a good movie, not really what I had expected 4 stars
8/19/05 Monster W. Kung An awful story, full of cliches, with decent cinematography. 2 stars
8/19/05 Honor above Lies A fine film with some worthwhile themes and thoughts, America being it's usual stupid self 4 stars
8/18/05 ES Ken Watanabe rules, this movie was definately better than I would have thought 5 stars
8/02/05 ALDO Cruise sucks in this one. Overdone. 2 stars
7/29/05 love very american ending.The only surviving samurai is not Japanese but American!Hello!!! 4 stars
7/25/05 Edward Aizen As always, Tom Cruise prevails...honor in death, enough said 5 stars
7/09/05 Moctezuma A great one 5 stars
7/06/05 Pinkline Jones Spoilt by Shinkansen in background 3 stars
6/07/05 JD awesome movie, very enjoyable. 5 stars
5/10/05 Simon Beautifully representative of much of what I've come to believe. 5 stars
4/27/05 Quigley a very good story that has many thoughtful elements to it. Cruise does surprisingly good 4 stars
4/12/05 Ronin Tom using katanas with skill, not very realistic. Fortunately there is more than that. 4 stars
3/25/05 Denise very good 5 stars
3/01/05 simon buxton breathtaking. ken wantanabe made it a great epic 5 stars
2/23/05 Dusty Johnson I liked the action but not as good as the miniseries. 4 stars
2/11/05 Aimee Shelton The acting was really good in this film. Which is saying a lot for most Cruise movies! 4 stars
2/11/05 J. Elaine Greenup Very interesting 4 stars
2/10/05 Sharon Davis Pretty good 4 stars
2/08/05 Lisa Jochelson It was better than I thought it would be. I enjoyed it. 4 stars
2/07/05 Richard Linxwiler One of the best movies Tom Cruise has made. 5 stars
2/03/05 Tanya Grays it was an okay movie but not realistic about the Japanese 3 stars
2/03/05 Kent B. On the fence. I am not sure if I liked it or not. 3 stars
2/01/05 Joe Kolarz Great movie, Tom Cruise is awesome 5 stars
2/01/05 Alice Colwell I don't like Tom Cruise, but have to admit I rerally liked this movie 5 stars
1/31/05 Danita Berg Freaking hated this movie. Boooooring. 2 stars
1/31/05 Christy Harris 2 Thumbs up! 4 stars
1/31/05 bongeezer One white guy proves to be a better samurai than all Japanese? 2 stars
1/31/05 Lynda Eby Cruise was more than just a pretty face in this one. 4 stars
1/31/05 Andrea Haresign YAAAWWWN 2 stars
1/29/05 Charlene Javier Except for Tom, the movie's fine... 4 stars
1/29/05 Frank Tells good movie 4 stars
1/29/05 Caroline The relationship was stagnant... maybe it was a cultural leap, but I didn't get it. 3 stars
1/29/05 Christine Fidance Excellent movie and Tom Cruise was exceptional in it 5 stars
1/28/05 DONNA LONGWORTH I REALLY LIKED THIS MOVIE! 4 stars
1/28/05 Carolyn Rathburn While this film lost my attention somewhere in the middle, the ending brought you back. 4 stars
1/12/05 Aaron Brown One of the best movies I have ever seen because of its emotion, screenplay, and dialogue. 5 stars
12/21/04 Ryan Impressive movie 5 stars
12/04/04 Last samarai owns But dont thinks it owns rotk EE that is better,but LS STILL OWNAGE 5 stars
11/11/04 Hilary Adamson C'mon Scott Weinberg. DANCES WITH WOLVES is a plea for peace. This celebrates a bloodbath! 2 stars
8/21/04 Daveman Watchable but very silly and not particularly interesting. 3 stars
8/09/04 Jeff Needed a little more graphic realism, but for a period piece, nicely done. 5 stars
8/07/04 ALDO Great FILM...GO WATCH IT....What more can i say 5 stars
7/28/04 Dylan Smith The Last Samurai was the best movie. 5 stars
7/13/04 Graham Shallow, uninteresting, mediocre action, no period detail, well-acted. 2 stars
7/07/04 Shams Huque Superb film! 5 stars
7/04/04 Kai Well told story merged with powerfull music !! 5 stars
6/30/04 Piz A modern day Dances With Wolves. Well-shot, can get slow at times. 4 stars
6/18/04 Denise Duspiva cruise is great 5 stars
6/17/04 P toya Political correctness kissing a brutal feudal miltary culture. Nice sword play. 1 stars
6/07/04 Ron Miller Cruise was great; fantastic ending, great fight scenes! 4 stars
6/06/04 Monster W. Kung Really not that great; aims high, but fails. 3 stars
5/30/04 Frazier A well told story about a disappearing culture, a powerful epict. 5 stars
5/25/04 Mitch A bit cliched and overwrought, but not bad all in all. 4 stars
5/22/04 DWIKA MAHENDRA THIS FILM IS THE MOST GREATFULL THAN THE OTHER TOMS FILM 5 stars
5/15/04 Peter Williams Great movie, if not for Return of the King this was the best movie in 2003. 5 stars
5/06/04 Diane Watson Apart from Tom Cruise who appeared in almost every scene, and somehow manages to survive wh 5 stars
5/02/04 breremarer Great movie! Tome Cruise+Japan=epic 5 stars
5/01/04 Marisa Monroe One of the worst films I've seen in sometime. Cruise makes a laughable samurai. Skip it. 2 stars
4/22/04 Elena The film was well done, not inaccurate, but just WHY Tom Cruise??? 4 stars
4/05/04 Agent Sands Fuck the Cruise-haters. This flick could've starred Jim Breuer & still kicked major ass. 5 stars
3/27/04 qemm Perfect acting and scenes. Everything seems very authentic. Superb movie. 5 stars
3/23/04 Bikramjit Certainly one of the best movies in recent times 5 stars
3/17/04 Quienietra Dumantravska Those Samurai forces charge forth on pink horses! 2 stars
3/12/04 atreida beautiful movie with great cast 5 stars
3/08/04 Blaine Holloway best film of 2003, yes, better than return of the king 5 stars
2/26/04 Troy Butler Not quite five stars, ... but very impressive nonetheless!!! 4 stars
2/24/04 Soulis profound, well acted, amazing scenes 5 stars
2/21/04 Denise Duspiva Great 5 stars
2/18/04 Caiphn I don't understand what movie an individual could ever enjoy to think that this 'sucked'. 5 stars
2/11/04 Obi Wan Great movie...quickly became one of my favorites...four trips to the theatre & waitin 4 DVD 5 stars
2/08/04 Gretchen Seitz Insists on having bloodbath kill thousands when title character kills self either way. Why? 2 stars
2/07/04 ladeela definitely better than expected, its great, EVEN tom cruis was good 5 stars
2/03/04 Psycho_Gunman History aside. It's about Samurais and Bushido simplified. 5 stars
2/02/04 rron its very good film 5 stars
1/30/04 Gookkuu I think if you have some knowledge about Japan's history ,you will enjoy with it more!!! 5 stars
1/29/04 Jonathan Clark This is the best movie i have ever seen. It has become my favorite movie of all time. 5 stars
1/28/04 sumixam Great except when TC spoke some very corny lines 4 stars
1/28/04 Mark Parlato Trigona Speechless - This is an awe inspiring movie 5 stars
1/22/04 Paul It is ther best goddamn movie i have ever seen...i think. 5 stars
1/22/04 JamesVG Seven Samurai is better, but this was still great. 5 stars
1/20/04 Af Harrison sucks BIG time 1 stars
1/19/04 C P Hung I enjoyed it and both Tom Cruise & Watanable are excellent. 5 stars
1/18/04 Tini Superb 5 stars
1/18/04 Flip I loved this movie! Even though it is not historicacly acurate. I as a person strive to liv 5 stars
1/15/04 gloria great movie, intriguing, great actors. 5 stars
1/15/04 Chance Great epic type movie 5 stars
1/14/04 malcolm a little melodramatic but gorgeous overall 5 stars
1/14/04 Betty White Overblown, overplotted action flick with Cruise giving a phone-in performance. 1 stars
1/13/04 Horacio Offensive Like saying a foreigner was responsible for Brazil wining the 1970 world cup. 1 stars
1/12/04 Steve Great 5 stars
1/11/04 (none) A wonderful and film. Great performance by Watanabe. 5 stars
1/10/04 Chopper3 Just another 'join-the-dots' hollywood number, completely predictable and forgetable. 1 stars
1/10/04 John Sellin How much longer will we have to endure this continual re-discovery of Americanism. 1 stars
1/10/04 Shadaan Felfeli I loved the film. Its very Zen and Very Beautiful. 5 stars
1/09/04 Daniel Barf! American saves Samourai tradition?Ha ha. Effects? Hey I saw dinosaurs on screen once. 3 stars
1/07/04 KICK ASS OR DONT COME HOME! looks like tom is goin home then ;) 5 stars
1/06/04 Chance Excellent. 5 stars
1/05/04 jason moving 5 stars
1/05/04 Patrick with a Brain Name this movie something else, so people won't confuse it with history. It didn't happen. 2 stars
1/02/04 A F Why Cruise? It would have been nice to see him decapitated. 4 stars
12/31/03 Mattie G Cruise pulls it off. Great film. Has a bit of everything. 5 stars
12/31/03 Obi Wan Watching it a 3rd time has reaffirmed that this is a 5 Star movie still!!! 5 stars
12/31/03 Maureen Flipping Great 5 stars
12/30/03 Angolmois Contrives plot. If Cruise was so honorable, why didn't he commit suicide too? Good visuals. 4 stars
12/29/03 JC Beautiful portrayal of Japanese culture.This film has touched me in a personal level.A++++ 5 stars
12/28/03 Agent Sands As well as giving us usual war film goods, it's a beautiful portrayal of Japanese culture. 5 stars
12/27/03 Jim Incredible movie 5 stars
12/26/03 Marvin P. top movie contender of the year 5 stars
12/25/03 ajay painfully boring. didn't enjoy it at all and wish I saw LOTR again... 2 stars
12/22/03 Fastbug If you liked DWW, you'll love this. An Oscar contender for sure! 5 stars
12/22/03 Caiphn 'Glorifies the rise of militaristic Japan'? Are you friggin retarded?Did you even watch it? 5 stars
12/21/03 Bill Cawlfield Cruise at his best 5 stars
12/19/03 your worst goddamn nightmare the only movie i can think of where a woman dresses a man and makes it so sensual & subtle 5 stars
12/18/03 Peter Americanized and it glorifies the rise of a militaristic Japan. 1 stars
12/17/03 Cool Leather Jack buuutiful work, loved it 5 stars
12/16/03 Gematria Are you kidding? This cliched piece of drivel is an insult. 2 stars
12/15/03 Emmy the best movie ever!!!!!! 5 stars
12/14/03 Gil Carlson A moving story, magnificently filmed 5 stars
12/13/03 Eric Powerful and emotional with some of the best battle scenes ever put on film. 5 stars
12/12/03 Tom Cruise I am a daft cunt. I really suck. 1 stars
12/11/03 Sean Emrick Best Film Ever 5 stars
12/11/03 Koitus Great movie! I particularly liked the Ninja attack, in the village! 5 stars
12/11/03 Darkheart Awesome. Awesome. Awesome. 5 stars
12/10/03 Cypher Great, very accurate to the samurai way. definantly worth the 7$. one of the best movies 5 stars
12/10/03 Nick Althought it felt odd, the movie is Oscar/Grammy Bound. I hope the JP actors get credit too 5 stars
12/09/03 nick2k i want the fucking dvd NOW!!! 5 stars
12/08/03 Simon the Great dis movie was full of homos stuff sammurri stuff wuz sooo boring. no hot chikc. 1 stars
12/08/03 jay poor..Cruise hollywoody Samurai..lousy Oriental Braveheart, give me a break ! 2 stars
12/08/03 Obi Wan Great...maybe Crowe could have played Nathan, but still great!! 5 stars
12/08/03 Unanon Good, despite the Cruise factor. 4 stars
12/08/03 Peter Yet another Cruise career vehicle. The 'Dimpled One' miscasts himself in historical films. 3 stars
12/08/03 alex I was suprized by Cruise, he did good job, but Watanabe was the reason why I loved the film 5 stars
12/07/03 Wolf 1st half hour, Cruise is acting(poorly) - rest of film, he's LIVING the role. 5 stars
12/07/03 Gray one ethnic group being shown as better than another=shit 1 stars
12/07/03 tony El nino anyone tht says this movie is less than swesome can shove one, this is the best movie!! 5 stars
12/07/03 Ryan beginning too long, good overall 5 stars
12/07/03 ROTK=2004 Oscar!! Braveheart owns this piece of shit. 1 stars
12/07/03 joe slow, a yawner 2 stars
12/07/03 Fenian Absolutely masterful. Screenplay, cinematography, acting, all fantastic! 5 stars
12/07/03 Stacy It's the best cultural movie I have ever seen 5 stars
12/06/03 vp go see it for your self, its one of the best i've seen this year 5 stars
12/06/03 jawsboy One of the best films of the year. Great acting, battles, cinematography, story. Go Cruise! 4 stars
12/06/03 benice very boring. people actually left during the film 1 stars
12/06/03 Noel Great Movie But Makes Me Wonder if I could be a Samurai 5 stars
12/06/03 kentkid An amazing movie, best one i've seen all year. 5 stars
12/06/03 john so so, trite ... bland 3 stars
12/05/03 Pete Well, i actually think it was okay. 4 stars
12/05/03 rsanchez You know where this is going from the get go, but it still sucks you in and never lets up. 5 stars
12/05/03 Brian incredible film 5 stars
12/04/03 Ray I think its very good, but not Oscar-good 5 stars
12/02/03 aseelye Good movie, but felt slow at times. 4 stars
12/01/03 t-d One of the years best 5 stars
IF YOU'VE SEEN THIS FILM, RATE IT!
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USA
  05-Dec-2003 (R)
  DVD: 04-May-2004

UK
  N/A

Australia
  15-Jan-2004




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