Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Updated February 11, 2017 | Infoplease Staff
Director/Writer:Jim Jarmusch
Artisian Entertainment; R; 116 minutes
Cast:Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Isaach de Bankole

It takes a post-modern cowboy like Jim Jarmusch to pull off a hip-hop/orientalist western like this. Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is an exquisite piece of filmmaking that upends stereotypes in lieu of a fresh take on faith, devotion, mafioso lowlifes, and boyz 'n the hood.

Adamantly schlumpy Forest Whitaker is the titular samurai who lives in a shack and communicates with the world via passenger pigeons. Guided by an ancient samurai text, the urban warrior dwells in shadows, bound by honor to Mafia middleman Louie (John Tormey). Louie contracts Ghost Dog out for a hit every once in a while, but when botched instructions turn the Mafia against Ghost Dog, things get ugly.

Jarmusch handles each scene with an everyday importance more commonly found in theater. Ghost Dog's best friend Raymond (Isaach de Bankole) speaks only French, Ghost Dog only English, yet in their subtitled exchanges an imaginative and tender commentary on the nature of human understanding emerges. Plot conventions and character roles are flipped, producing a movie whose flawlessness is that of a director confident enough to play by his own rules. The soundtrack by RZA, legendary producer and founding member of hip-hop's ruling gnostic dynasty, the Wu-Tang Clan, adds street credibility and carefully tailored avant-garde compositions in one fell swoop.

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