American martial artist Casey Bowman may be an expert practitioner in the art of Ninjitsu, but he likes to live a more peaceful life in his Japanese home with his wife Namiko Takeda who happens to be pregnant with their first baby. Their family paradise is brutally ripped apart, however, when Casey returns home to find her viciously murdered; strangled to death with some sort of barbed wire. Following her funeral and filled with the kind of intense rage he usually fights hard to suppress, he determinedly sets out on a deadly mission to avenge Namiko's death, travelling across Thailand and Burma to find out exactly who committed the evil crime, and who else was behind it. He already has a good idea who he might be dealing with; the notorious drug baron Goro. But will he find him quick enough to prevent another string of deadly attacks?
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Perhaps the title "Dances with Samurai" was already taken when "Gladiator" screenwriter John Logan began work on this grandiose Oscar-baiting epic about a drunk, disillusioned Civil War veteran who is sent to Japan to help Westernize its military, but instead comes to embrace the honor and discipline of the ill-fated warrior class he's meant to defeat.
"The Last Samurai" does bear an undeniable structural and emotional resemblance to Kevin Costner's 1990 American frontier drama, also about a 19th-century soldier who casts off his imperialist ways to be absorbed into a native culture. But in this film the white man is played by Uber Movie Star Tom Cruise with a melodramatic steamer-trunk's worth of emotional baggage -- two factors that tend to draw focus away from the fact that a culture is being obliterated and toward the interloper's personal journey through self-loathing to redemption and heroism.
With his feathered, over-conditioned hair and blinding white teeth, Cruise is inescapably incongruous with 1870s Japan, but he does turn in an otherwise strong performance as army captain Nathan Algren, a man haunted by memories and beset by the remorse for his part in the Indian Campaigns that wiped out thousands of Native Americans in the name of Manifest Destiny.
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