Movie Reviews

Last Samurai, The (5/4/2004)

Rated R for strong violence and battle sequences.

Directed by Edward Zwick (Traffic, Shakespeare in Love, Legends of the Fall)

Starring Tom Cruise and Ken Watanabe

Glory, Braveheart, Last of the Mohicans . . . these are films about freedom, honor, and people fighting for a cause—something bigger than themselves. “The Last Samurai” sits right next to these films on the DVD shelf. It’s a powerful film with excellent performances, fantastic battle scenes and beautiful film-making.

This Edward Zwick film (“Glory,” “Legends of the Fall”) takes place in 1876. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is a civil war hero, now a disgruntled alcoholic who makes a living doing rifle demonstrations for a rifle company. Algren is hired to go to Japan and train their new “modern” military to dispose of samurai “rebels.” Algren quickly grows to dislike the Japanese businessman that hired him, just as he dislikes his old superiors from the Civil War that led him in the brutal massacre of Indian women and children at the end of the war.

Eager to try out their newly trained forces, the Japanese demand Algren to lead an attack against the samurai “rebels.” Algren argues that the troops aren’t ready, but no one will listen. All of Algren’s guns in the hands of his inexperienced army are no match for the bows, arrows and swords of the samurai who quickly defeat Algren’s advance. But Algren doesn’t give up and continues fighting even when severely injured and surrounded by the entire Samurai forces. Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe), the samurai leader, is amazed at Algren’s perserverance and courage and decides to spare his life, taking him captive back to their home across the mountains.

Once Algren recovers, he is allowed to roam the remote village freely, as escape would be impossible over the mountains until Spring.

Katsumoto reads from Algren’s diary about fighting the Indian “rebels” and seeks to learn from him. So Algren is treated hospitably, staying with Katsumoto’s sister and learning the ways of the samurai. Algren grows to understand their ways and respects their lifestyle and beliefs better than those of the men that hired him. He and Katsumoto become friends and when spring arrives, Algren must choose who to fight for.

“The Last Samurai” delivers.

I’m not a huge Tom Cruise fan. The guy can act, I’m just not a fan of “Tom.” So I actually walked in to the film a little biased “against” it. (Pathetic, isn’t it?) And to make matters worse, in the beginning of the film, the director wants you to dislike his character. But trust me—wait it out! Cruise does an excellent job portraying the transformation, or redemption, if you will, of Algren.

Should kids see it?

Little kids? No. There are intense battle scenes, bloody fights, even a few beheadings.

But older kids might enjoy it. I even let my 11 year old boy watch it with me. (Daddy/son night—popcorn, Red Vines, the whole bit!) I found it comforting to see a movie with absolutely no sexual situations, nudity or coarse joking. There is very little foul language, if any. See for more details of the content. But I think there are only two elements you’ll need to consider:

  • the bloody battle scenes and fighting.

  • some references to Budism, including a few scenes where we see Katsumoto praying. Nothing preachy.

Conversation Starter
Three Simple Questions (with Answers You May Be Looking for):

  1. What are some of the messages or themes you observed in this movie?
  2. How do you suppose we—as serious Christ-followers—should react to this movie?
  3. How can we move from healthy, Bible-based opinions about this movie to actually living out those opinions?


Jonathan McKee

Jonathan McKee is the author of over twenty books including the brand new The Bullying Breakthrough; The Teen’s Guide to Social Media & Mobile Devices; If I Had a Parenting Do Over; and the Amazon Best Seller - The Guy's Guide to God, Girls and the Phone in Your Pocket. He speaks to parents and leaders worldwide, all while providing free resources for youth workers on Jonathan, his wife Lori, and their three kids live in California.

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