Apart from having read the brief synopsis, I walked into this film not really knowing what to expect . Neither had I seen any of Jarmusch's other quite prominent films - "Down by Law", "Mystery Train", "Night on Earth" and "Dead Man". And yet I left feeling I had witnessed a film which had found a rare blend between action, comedy, drama and the provocation of some deep philosophical stirrings about life and how to live it nobly.Through the great camera work of Robbie Muller, we are introduced to a bleak urban landscape that could be anywhere (but which turns out to be New York), and the even bleaker folk who inhabit it. Making his was through this is Ghost Dog (Whitaker), a modern Samurai, living by the ancient ways in a world that has forgotten such. Working as a 'casual' hitman for Louie (Tormey), he suddenly finds himself at the other end of twisted mafia logic and honour when he rubs out one of the small town mafiosa (at the request of other members of 'la famiglia') and thus must be similarly rubbed out. As they systematically attempt to destroy his code of life, he reacts strictly in accordance with Hagakure, or "The Way of the Samurai".
Whitaker is a strong presence in the film as the dark knight and street wise hitman and yet somehow ancient avenger. The dexterity with which he performs various samurai action and technique is excellent and it is refreshing to have a 'non-action hero' actor playing this role as he also brings depth and humanity to the character. Gorman and Tormey are both convincing as the 'old school' mafiosa who are clinging to the vestiges of what they perceive their own code to be, in an environment where their kind are on the verge of extinction. De Bankole as the french speaking illegal immigrant (and Ghost Dog's best friend), Raymond, is fun and the youngest of the cast, Camille Winbush also does well in the role of Pearline, the potential 'young apprentice' for Ghost Dog.
Jarmusch has done a smooth job with the writing. His use of two other languages (and the accompanying subtitles) is an interesting device to highlight the nature of communication across worlds, the chunks of text taken from "The Way of the Samurai" and reference to cartoons such as 'Felix the Cat' and 'Betty Boop' act as nice sign posts for the forthcoming sequences of action, and the humour that ocassionaly bubbles up in certain scenes offsets the easy violence that permeates others.
Probably the only real hole in the movie is the lack of explanation as to how Ghost Dog became the modern urban samurai that he is...although maybe it is better left as a mystery?All in all, a film that most should find interesting, amusing, and with a nice twist of samurai philosophy by which to live life. (Paul Bugeja--filmnet.org.au)