STRANGE PARADISE: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog still

By: Addison Wylie

My feelings for Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai follow in the same vein as some sceptics felt about Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive – a whole lot of style and not much else.

I could see what Jarmusch was trying to do with Ghost Dog.  It was the same thing we later saw Refn carry out with Drive, except Refn executed his film much better.  Jarmusch was wanting to pay homage to a genre – or period – of wanderer films that may – or may not – have been up his alley.  He also didn’t want to compromise his signature filmmaking in order to emulate something else.

The minimalist filmmaker has his heart in the right place with this sombre flick, but his trademark finesse overbears the soul that should still be living in the referenced material.

We see obvious nods with added “swoop” sound effects when silent assassin Ghost Dog ducks out of sight, as well as during cross fade transitions and quick blur repeats during combat.  But, the composed strategic storytelling along with Jarmusch’s tranquil direction makes this film drag its feet and most actors look as if they’re coming out of sedation.

Forest Whitaker manages to come out of this experience without a scratch as he plays the title role.  He exceptionally fits the mould of a gentle yet dangerous killer, who always looks as if he’s three steps ahead of everyone else.  Jarmusch is also clever in ways that reflect Ghost Dog’s hired tactics.  The filmmaker doesn’t feel the need to explain how Whitaker’s weapons and gadgets work, and the inventive kills don’t shy away from how merciless killing can be.

I wish that cleverness rubbed off on how the otherwise skilled filmmaker told this story.  Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai always looks and feels down in the dumps, and never finds that balance between what movie goers appreciate about Jarmusch’s directorial visions and what Jarmusch appreciates about what he’s hoping to make.

Luckily, Ghost Dog has an incredible score provided by Wu-Tang Clan’s RZA.  Apart from Whitaker, the musician is usually the only person in power who can periodically breathe some sort of life into this lethargic lemon.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai screens at the TIFF BELL Lightbox on Sunday, August 3 at 7:15 p.m.


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