The Japanese monarchy has decided to replace the hired samurai warriors, who have been relied upon for centuries for defending the nation, with a more contemporary military. A U.S. Civil War veteran (Tom Cruise) is hired by the Emperor to train a group of Japanese conscripts to replace the samurai warriors. But when he is captured by the samurai, he comes to respect them and finds himself torn over who he should be fighting for.
The Last Samurai gives epic sweep to an intimate story of cultures at a crossroads as Japan undergoes tumultuous transition to a more Westernised society in 1876-77. In America, tormented Civil War veteran Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise) is coerced by a mercenary officer (Tony Goldwyn) to train the Japanese Emperor's troops in the use of modern weaponry. Opposing this "progress" is a rebellion of samurai warriors, holding fast to their traditions of honour despite strategic disadvantage. As a captive of the samurai leader (Ken Watanabe), Algren learns, appreciates, and adopts the Samurai code, switching sides for a climactic battle that will put everyone's honour to the ultimate test.
All of which makes director Edward Zwick's noble epic eminently worthwhile, even if its Hollywood trappings (including an all-too-conventional ending) prevent it from being the masterpiece that Zwick and screenwriter John Logan clearly wanted it to be. Instead, The Last Samurai is an elegant mainstream adventure, impressive in all aspects of its production. It may not engage the emotions as effectively as Logan's script for Gladiator, but like Cruise's character, it finds its own quality of honour. --Jeff Shannon
Two men, Captain Nathan Algren a veteran of the American Civil War and a celebrated Samurai warrior, Katsumoto, who is learning about change, are fated to meet. Both will face each other and make a stand against those that would threaten honour and values. --This text refers to an alternate DVD edition.