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Overall Rating

Worth A Look: 29.31%
Average: 4.31%
Pretty Bad: 0.86%
Total Crap: 9.48%

8 reviews, 68 user ratings

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Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai
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by Scott Weinberg

"It's too 'smart' to make any money, but it's also too good to miss."
4 stars

Ghost Dog borrows liberally from about 5 different genres of movie, and while this would easily overwhelm most movies, the patchwork style really pays off here. This movie almost defies description, but I'd classify it as a mildly comedic drama with a few exciting action scenes. Unfortunately, that classification doesn't come close to actually describing it.

Director Jim Jarmusch (Stranger than Paradise, Down by Law) could never be accused of being a conventional filmmaker. He seems to almost work on a higher level than conventional Hollywood, and while his movies are not always great, he does make astonishingly original movies, and this is one of his best. It's a combination of gangster drama, character study and heartfelt drama with just a whole bunch of other influences. (Urban Hip-Hop culture, Honor and Redemption themes, shootouts and assassinations, and fascinating glimpses into the actual Code of the Samurai, plus it's got some unexpectedly funny scenes that come out of nowhere.)

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) is a complete loner, a tower unto himself. He works as an assassin for a local mob syndicate and lives next to a pigeon coop on the top of an apartment building. Between jobs, he busies himself by studying and practicing the art of Ancient Samurai. Ghost Dog's life is governed by these codes of Samurai behavior, discipline and honor. We watch him stalking through the streets of New York like a ghost, seemingly unseen by all. He has no friends, except for a young neighborhood girl and an ice-cream vendor who speaks no English.

When his latest "hit" goes mildly askew (the Don's daughter witnessed it), Ghost Dog is targeted for termination by his employers. This proves to be rather difficult, as none of them know what he looks like and he only communicates through carrier pigeon. The only one loyal to Ghost Dog is Louis (Tormey), and he attempts to warn the hit man while avoiding the suspicion of his own boss.

While this description may sound like a conventional 'mob movie', the overall result is like nothing you've seen before. The film is intermittently broken up by chapters, each of which describes a specific Samurai ethic. (While these 'titles' may make the movie a bit easier to follow, I doubt they were really necessary.) Ghost Dog's goal to remain honorable is severely tested as he avoids being murdered while exacting revenge on those who have betrayed him. Each code of the Samurai is displayed throughout Ghost Dog's journey, both with the written words onscreen and by his own actions.

As in most of Jarmusch's movies, the beauty is in the details. Henry Silva's performance as Vargo, for example. He looks and acts like a cartoon villain from an old Dick Tracy comic, occasionally offering sputerring some ridiculous thought out loud. His character made no sense, except to be strange and spooky. Also quite memorable is Cliff Gorman as Sonny, an Italian mafioso with a surprising knowledge of rap lyrics. (His bathroom scene towards the end will stand as one of the funniest scenes of the year.) Jarmusch also creates a clever relationship between Ghost Dog and a French ice-cream vendor, in which neither can understand one another at all. (Yet through subtitles, we see that they can somehow understand one another perfectly!)

While there's not a sour note in the entire cast, the show obviously belongs to Forest Whitaker. He brings equal parts sorrow, anger and wisdom to this character who is essentially a cold-blooded murderer (who is also probably quite insane). Also noteworthy is John Tormey, as a mafia lieutenant who feels compelled to save Ghost Dog's life (and not for the first time, as it turns out).

While it may not be the 'movie of the year' that many people are calling it, Ghost Dog has more originality and brains in its first five minutes than most movies do for ninety. It has a 'stream-of-consciousness' feel, meaning that some things suddenly happen, and that's it. They just occur, and it's left for you to decide if they were important or not. Bring your brain.

Rarely does a movie show up that is alternately silly, violent, clever and truly deep. I don't mean 'deep' as in a movie that thinks that it's smart. I mean that it has a sly and subtle message, and delivers it in a truly unique fashion. While it may not be for all tastes, I think it's a safe bet that you'll not only enjoy it, but appreciate it as well.

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originally posted: 04/23/00 18:00:11
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User Comments

4/15/17 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
12/17/09 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
5/30/08 Reza Tayebi The story could be a lot better but overall good. 3 stars
11/29/07 Mike Hunt i was deceived by the video cover art, forrest in a c-grade actioner? 5 stars
5/11/07 DJR A lot of subtle humor if you look for it 5 stars
4/16/07 no one this movie captures the essence of integrity in hopelessness 5 stars
2/05/07 Susan I agree with every word of the review 5 stars
11/22/06 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
8/10/04 Jeff Not Forrest Whitakers best, and flipping the gun around like a damned sword was too much 3 stars
7/09/04 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
7/18/03 Vartanoosh Kiourktzian This movie is unlike any I've ever seen(maybe a remake of Le Samourai). Brilliant! 5 stars
6/20/03 Jack Bourbon Ghost Dog isn't really about a guy trying to be some "cool" samurai. 4 stars
3/13/03 Artist Freak This movie RULES. Great visual style, multi-layered storytelling, moody, funny, subtle. 5 stars
3/08/03 Jack Sommersby Pretentious crap. Jarmusch is search of a worthy subject. 2 stars
10/26/02 Morally Sound Brilliant dialog and brilliant direction! A kick ass mafia movie! 5 stars
10/04/02 James Understated and Quiet, Striking 5 stars
5/15/02 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
4/01/02 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
1/25/02 Andrew Carden A Total Waste Of Good Talent and Direction. 1 stars
10/19/01 Danzi One of the best .... just go and see it - NOW !! 5 stars
10/04/01 groodude take a chance. Watch this movie and expand your mind 5 stars
9/03/01 Butterbean I was expecting Forest to look stupid, like Farley in Beverly Hills Ninja. I was impressed 4 stars
7/20/01 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
7/03/01 The Stuff Finally a black intellectual who's no a side kick. Al la Brother From Another Planet! 5 stars
6/14/01 Final Trunks Provokes many deep thoughts, an exceptionally fascinating 'stream of consciousness' film. 4 stars
6/13/01 canuck Wow, Whitaker plays an obviously deranged and possibly psychopathic guy with fragility. 5 stars
4/07/01 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
2/20/01 Rob Quimby Note the relation between dog and god. No coincidence. 5 stars
2/20/01 Mark Quinn Deep 5 stars
1/21/01 martin Beltinger coole meinung fritz!! 1 stars
12/23/00 Bev Clark Subtle, clever but incredibly stylised. Forrest Whittaker is brilliant 4 stars
11/24/00 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
11/14/00 Andrew I. Complete waste of $3.50 and 2 hours. NOT intelligent. NOT unique. Just garbage 1 stars
9/17/00 The Bomb 69 glad to see something different come out of hollywood for a change 5 stars
9/17/00 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
6/16/00 JonnyA worth watching fo' sho' 4 stars
5/27/00 Fritz Beltinger This movie sucks 1 stars
5/14/00 gwalla See this movie. Many many times. 5 stars
4/24/00 Nadine Eugene What where they thing when thry pushed this out 1 stars
4/10/00 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
4/07/00 GDB pffft 1 stars
4/03/00 PJ You thought Stranger Than Paradise was brilliant, see this movie, poignant. 5 stars
3/31/00 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
3/25/00 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
3/19/00 camk Saw it in France, can't wait to see it here when the theater execs pull their heads out 5 stars
3/11/00 Mr Glute Just awesome. It won't make lots of money, but it makes you think. 5 stars
3/07/00 SomeGuy Great characters, great story. See it! 5 stars
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