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Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai
"sometimes the old ways are best"
Forest Whitaker stars in the finely made Jim Jarmusch film, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai as a self-made assassin beholden to the strict guidelines of Hagakure (a medieval samurai text which also helps him become a superior killer), he becomes indebted to a minor figure of a crumbling crime family in New York before his Samurai path begins, and swears fealty to this underboss Louie as his "retainer." Over more than a decade, and only at Louie's command, he executes hit after hit, no evidence, no indication of who or why ... until one fateful job changes everything.
The film borrows heavily from the text of Hagakure, quoting it extensively in black-screen shots at transition points in the film. The characters are drawn broadly but with great texture and nuance. For example, Louie's superior in the mob, Ray Vargo has a fascination with Flavor Flav's cut from It Takes A Nation Of Millions To Hold Us Back, rapping it flawlessly moments before the bullets end his life. Ghost Dog forms friendships with locals picturesque Pearline (reminiscent of Lauryn Hill with her flawless features and faux innocence) and Raymond the ice cream man, who speaks only French. Even though Ghost Dog speaks only English, somehow they always manage to arrive at the same thought at the same time. He takes Ghost Dog to a rooftop to see a man building a boat on a neighboring rooftop -- a man who only speaks Spanish --- because it is a testament to human spirit. With details like this, characters that could have easily become cliché take on unexpected dimensions. The details help bring this film depth.
RZA's gritty, beat driven score adds the needed darkness this tragedy requires, while giving a sense of mood that conveys power and subtlety. His cameo was a bit contrived, viewing how the neighborhood hooligans respected Ghost Dog, but a nice hip hop exclamation point nonetheless. When the film eases into its conclusion, you feel the shock but know that this ending, like the old ways, is best for all, and if the facial expression of the little girl reading Ghost Dog's personal guidebook is any indication, this story may not be over.
Grade = A-
-- Hannibal Tabu, $d®/Parker Brothers
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