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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 EricDSnider

"Sometimes you score points just for doing something different."
4 stars

"Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is the sort of movie that you enjoy watching, except for one nagging question that keeps gnawing at the back of your mind: What's the point?

When acclaimed independent-film director Jim Jarmusch is writer and director, one expects coherence -- that is, you're never confused as to what's going on -- but darned if you're going to get much explanation as to WHY it's all happening.

It's certainly a well-made film, well-acted, well-written and full of oddly funny moments. Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a hitman-for-hire in an unnamed modern-day city. (Cars' license plates just say "The Industrial State.") He also studies, with great seriousness, "Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai," and endeavors to be a 21st-century samurai, abiding by the same precepts as his 18th-century Japanese counterparts.

"The way of the samurai is found in death," he says in one of many quotes from the text. "Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily."

Ever since a mobster named Louie (John Tormey) saved him from being beaten by a gang several years ago, Ghost Dog has been loyal to him, serving his "master" in any way he can. This usually involves killing people -- specifically, in this case, one Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), who has been having an affair with fellow mobster Ray Vargo's (Henry Silva) daughter. Vargo gives the order; Louie gives the assignment to Ghost Dog (they only communicate via carrier pigeon); Frank is rubbed out.

Unfortunately, Louise Vargo (Tricia Vessey), the mistress, is present for the killing, and now Vargo wants Ghost Dog killed, too, for allowing himself to be witnessed. Louie is hesitant to kill his best employee; besides, he doesn't even know how to get a hold of the guy. Ghost Dog soon realizes he must defend himself against Vargo and all his men -- and perhaps against Louie, his master, too, since Louie knows if he doesn't take care of Ghost Dog, his fellow mobsters will take care of him.

Many parallels are drawn between the way of the samurai and the code of "ethics" used by the Mafia: loyalty, honor, and what-not. What we're supposed to get from that is beyond me, but darned if it's not an entertaining film to watch.

There is great humor with Vargo's associate Sonny Valerio (Cliff Gorman), a rap-lover (he especially likes Flavor Flav), in a bathroom lip-synching routine. Little touches of comedy sneak in here and there elsewhere, too.

In all, it's an unusual film. Not weird or pretentious; just unusual. The soundtrack is completely rap and hip-hop; the scenery is gritty urban Mafia; the philosphy is ancient Japanese. Sometimes you score points just for doing something different.

link directly to this review at
originally posted: 07/04/03 14:27:55
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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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