Beginning with casting Forest Whitaker as the inner city Samurai, , who doesn't exactly sport a Bruce Lee physique, OBVIOUSLY this movie was never meant to be taken literally! In fact, Jarmusch may be the ONLY director who dares, and can pull off, a film that mixes hip-hop street culture with Mafioso wise guys, sprinkle it with quotes from The Book of the Samurai by Hagakure and not just "get away with it" but make it all work!
If you like Jim Jarmusch films then you'll love GHOST DOG. If you've never seen one of his flicks then go easy on yourself ... and take a peek at his 1991 film, NIGHT ON EARTH. If nothing else, you'll have a chance to see Winona Ryder in a wonderful acting role before she became, err, Winona Ryder. And let's not forget the other greats such as Gena Rowlands, Béatrice Dalle, Armin Mueller-Stahl, and that terrific MOUTH (and body) Rosie Perez who made NIGHT ON EARTH what it is. How can you resist?
In GHOST DOG, Whittaker is a gentle pigeon raising philosopher who is repected and feared in his 'hood. By night, he does "special" hits for the Mafia because as any good Samurai, he is loyal to one of the aging lieutenants who saved his life when Whittaker was a youth. The man he does contracts for is more like a character out of the ANALYZE THIS! than from the GODFATHER The wise guys in GHOST DOG are a bunch of ignorant bumblers (one of them played by Victor Argo, a great character actor) who can occasionally become very dangerous. Mixed in with this stew is a little black girl who Whittaker befiends because the two of them share a love of books.
Whittaker character's best friend is an ice cream vendor who doesn't speak a word of English, having just recently arrived from Ivory Coast in Africa. Some of the best dialogue is between these two who are so intuitively tuned to one another that although their words don't ever match up in their bilingual "conversations" they can exactly guess what the other one means.
Anyhow, this end-of-the-millennium film spiritually spans centuries while its post modern style was just born yesterday. See it!
The film feels like a cross between Melville's 'Le Samurai', Boorman's 'Point Blank' & Kitano's 'Sonatine'. It continues the transcedental mediations on death found in 'Dead Man'- as with that film it has a great score- by Wu-Tang man, RZA (along with the Wu-related work on 'Black & White', it is clear that their best work since Ghostface Killah's 'Ironman' is in soundtracks (exception-'Nigga Please' by ODB)).
There are some great moments of humour- the racist mob guy who digs Flavour Flav (Public Enemy), the reprisal of Gary Farmer as a Native -American and his catchphrase "stupid f***ing white man" (big influence on Michael Moore's book?), the old man being mugged or the bullet relations between Ghost Dog & Louie. And the subtitled mis/understandings are the best this side of 'Annie Hall'. The ice cream salesman (Roger from ER) and the young girl show the charming fraternal side to Ghost Dog's world; while Henry Silva and Victor Argo are among the Mafioso- or Jarmusch's deconstruction of. A canny reference to 'Rashomon' is present throughout the film, it's also a little like 'Leon'- there's also a boat on a roof- which is reminsicent of the ship in the tree in Herzog's 'Aguire,Wrath of God'. The film is wonderfully shot by Robby Muller- the exposed film leaves magical traces and the cityscape is not disimilar to 'Blade Runner' (we also get cuts that remind me of Travis Bickle walking down the street in 'Taxi Driver'-a great use of dissolve). And great to hear the original 'Armigideon Time' on the soundtrack! A modern classic at a bargain price; this one will creep up on you til you realise it's an all time favourite!
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