Bizarre Noir #5: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Welcome to the fifth of seven posts that will review bizarre noir movies! I hope you enjoy the series. For more information or previous entries, check the posts below this one.


Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.

Year of Origin: 1999.

Director: Jim Jarmusch.

Why it's bizarre: Hip-hop listening black assassin who follows code of the samurai.

Have you ever wondered what it would be like to see a movie that mixes gangster rap with the Italian mob and an African American hit man who follows the code of the samurai? And if you have, have you also wondered what it would be like if Forest Whitaker was said hit man? Then you’re in luck! Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker), after being saved by mafia member Louie (John Tormey), becomes the man’s personal hit man, and Louie becomes Ghost Dog’s ‘retainer’. You see, Ghost Dog lives by the way of the samurai, a very philosophical code for life. However, eight years after their fateful meeting, Louie contracts Ghost Dog to ice Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), one of their own. Nobody was supposed to be there… except a mafia bosses’ daughter, Louise (Tricia Vessey), was there to witness the entire event. So now the bosses are forced to try to find this mysterious Ghost Dog (as he’s only contacted through carrier pigeon) and get rid of him. Unfortunately, they picked the wrong guy the mess with.

Ghost Dog is not an action movie by any means. It’s more of a drama and/or philosophical movie. Each little section is separated by voice-over narration from Forest Whitaker reciting something either from philosophers or from the code of the samurai. Otherwise, Forest rarely talks. The only people I think he ever talks to are Louie, a young girl, and his best friend—a Haitian ice cream vendor named Raymond who only speaks French. And that latter relationship is the most endearing. They never understand what the other says, but they both get each other completely. And just the look on Raymond’s face at the end is just… well, you’d have to see it. The relationship between Ghost Dog and the girl, Pearline, is great, too. Pearline is really just like a young, female version of Ghost Dog himself.

There’s a lot of symbolism in the movie, from bear references to the cartoon clips that the mafia guys watch to… well… just about anything. The whole movie is very symbolic and very well done. And the link between hit man and samurai is a great connection, with their ways of life and even the way Ghost Dog handles his gun.

As for the acting, let me just say that this was one of the first movies that turned me on to the amazing acting ability of Forest Whitaker. Pearline is your typical child actor, giving a few stiff lines. And while the cheesy repeated lines in different languages between Ghost dog and Raymond could make it a bit hard to watch at times, the two characters were still endearing to each other. (Now, could I have thrown in any more metaphorical innuendo for an erection?).

Really, the only thing that might bring this movie down a small notch would be the very goofball mafia men. They really aren’t your typical mafia guys. They watch cartoons, sing along to rap, argue with a kid throwing toys at them, and any other number of emasculating or embarrassing things. They seemed to be more like mafia wannabes than actual hard-asses.

But as for the action, for the very little there is, it’s pretty cool. The way Ghost Dog goes about killing people is really cool, and sometimes imaginative (talking about the pipe/sink kill here). And Ghost Dog can really be a badass, especially with his cool little machine thing that can start cars and figure out codes. But, as I said, there’s not that much action to really talk in depth about, so I’ll just leave it at that.

Overall, if you go into this expecting more of a slow drama with a lot of symbolism and philosophy, along with some great acting by Forest Whitaker, then you won’t leave disappointed, much like the people who go into the movie thinking “hey, it’s a movie about a hit man. There should be some awesome action!” Think of it more along the lines of a very much more indie version of Leon, and with even less action than that. Oh, and the soundtrack is composed by the Wu Tang Clan’s the RZA. So yeah, anyway, it’s a great movie that I really recommend.

A Keanu 'Whoa'

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