Perhaps after the run of disappointing and mediocre films I've seen lately, I was expecting The Last Samurai to be another long, uninspired, bore. What I found was an enjoyable and familiar feeling film with strong performances and a lot of really great moments.
The story of The Last Samurai certainly isn't ground breaking. Director Ed Zwick revisits some of the same ground he visited in his film Glory and the story of The Last Samurai shares enough similarities with Dances with Wolves you could easily title it Dancing with Samurai. But familiar ground isn't necessarily a bad thing. I don't expect every film I see to break new ground, it just has to be compelling, entertaining and well made and The Last Samurai is all these things.
While The Last Samurai is a bit schmaltzy in places and several of the key emotional notes are hit over and over and over again, it is a film with a good number of fantastic moments. Many of these gems center around Tom Cruise and his performance as a washed up Wild West War hero and his experience getting sucked into a Japanese Civil War. Cruise does a really fantastic job of carrying the film, he embraces his role in The Last Samurai and shows his real range as an actor. Also notable is Billy Connolly who does a fantastic job with a relatively small role.
The Last Samurai might be the perfect date movie. One one hand it's a sweeping epic tale of honor, loyalty and finding meaning, on the other it's a war film with fantastic battle sequences and exciting sword fights.
By no means is The Last Samurai an amazing movie, it's far from perfect. As with several films of late (including The Missing), it badly needs an editor unafraid to remove scenes which slow the movie down or repeat emotional themes which are better covered in other scenes, but The Last Samurai is a good film with some really fantastic moments, which makes it more than worthy of checking out in theaters.