Ghost Dog: The Way Of The Samurai

on March 03, 2000 by Ed Scheid
   After his offbeat Western "Dead Man," writer/director Jim Jarmusch turns his quirky sensibility to the urban crime drama. Ghost Dog (Forrest Whitaker, "Phenomenon") is a hired killer who lives in a shack on the roof of an abandoned building. Ghost Dog follows the philosophies of the book "Way of the Samurai"; the text frequently appears on screen, emphasizing the ideals of the Japanese samurai warrior, including the concept of devoting body and soul to the samurai's master.
   Ghost Dog's "master" is a small-time gangster (John Tormey) who once saved our modern-day samurai. Ghost Dog is hired to murder a man involved with the daughter of the leader of a crime ring, but the daughter (Tricia Vessey) inadvertently witnesses the killing. (To make the thematic connection even more obvious, she calmly hands the killer a copy of the Japanese classic "Rashomon.") Since there has been a witness to the crime, the gang (including Cliff Gorman and Henry Silva) wants to have Ghost Dog killed.
   The solitary Ghost Dog remains too remote a figure to sustain much interest, and certain elements of the film do not fit well together. The gangsters are so inept that they seem as cartoon-like as the cartoons they constantly watch. This dissipates any tension in their attempt to kill the coldly efficient assassin.
   The only successful sequences involve Ghost Dog and a French-speaking ice cream salesman (Isaac de Bankole of Jarmusch's "Night on Earth"). They become best friends even though neither speaks the other's language. Their scenes have a freshness missing from the rest of the film.
   The look and sound of "Ghost Dog" is far better than its script. The film has been impeccably shot by Robby Muller, regular cinematographer for Jarmusch and Wim Wenders, while the score by New York musician Rza includes pulsating rap music.    Starring Forrest Whitaker, John Tormey and Cliff Gorman. Directed and written by Jim Jarmusch. Produced by Richard Guay and Jim Jarmusch. An Artisan release. Drama. Rated R for strong violence and language. Running time: 115 min.
Tags: samurai, crime, gangster, Rashomon, assassin, Way of the Samurai, murder, revenge, chase, Forest Whitaker, Henry Silva, Isaac de Bankole, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman, Jim Jarmusch

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