Urban Cinefile
"I think there is a piece of me that is very gypsy-esque and maybe one day I could write a book that says, 'and then she took off and now she's working in Uganda' - "  -Kim Basinger
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday July 28, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) lives alone - except for his friendly homing pigeons - on a rooftop in New York, a self made, modern Samurai warrior who has attached himself to a master in the form of a middle ranking gangster (John Tormey) who once saved his life in an alley brawl. His pigeons deliver the master's commands - usually instructions to kill a rival. Ghost Dog lives strictly by the Samurai code, even when his life is in danger, such as when Mr Vargo (Henry Silva ) demands Ghost Dog's execution with the help of Ghost Dog's own master.

"Jim Jarmusch can never be accused of making dull or predictable films. Ghost Dog is a film full of yin and yang, a unique, engaging and haunting film, a striking examination of warrior codes - East and West - which erect false gods to the so called nobility of battle. As elusive as it is entertaining, as complex as it is simple, it blends genres and styles, and upends our expectations, whilst feeding others. The film begins with the flight of a homing pigeon against the sky, an image that flutters throughout the film, but never quite lands. Indeed, many of the metaphors in the film seem obtuse, and the moral ambiguity of Ghost Dog's actions are perplexing. On the one hand, he is a warrior with a strict code, in which honour is highly esteemed. On the other, he is a callous killer, a thief and ultimately vengeful. But Jarmusch manages to make all this absorbing - and appear meaningful - as an intriguing clash-of-cultures story, with the two codes (Samurai, Mafia), presenting themselves through individual characters. It may be that Jarmusch is showing us the shallowness of so called codes that aspire to nobility yet continue to break the principal human code of decency, perhaps the most noble of all human virtues. In any case, he does work with truly some talented people - and casting Forest Whitaker as Ghost Dog is itself a creative act - giving us great music (superbly echoing that morality theme of repetition, promise yet denial of ultimate arrival) and excellent cinematography. The film is dense with images and ideas, suggestions and subliminal prodding, enough to make you feel you've had a meal. And there is enough of the action genre in it to please the thrill seekers."
Andrew L. Urban

"In an industry where it's now become the accepted norm for fledgling directors to use the independent film scene as a stepping on their way to mainstream fame and fortune, Jim Jarmusch has become the most conspicuous exception to the rule. Viewed by many to be the patriarch of the indie scene on the basis of trail-blazing gems like 1984's Stranger Than Paradise and 1986's Down By Law, Jarmusch appears to have absolutely no desire to join the swollen ranks of the Hollywood A-list. To do so would require him to surrender a large chunk of the trademark artistic sensibilities that have become a hallmark of his work and which, sixteen years on, still keep him well ahead of the indie pack. It would also preclude him from making a film like Ghost Dog. Though a good deal more accessible than Dead Man, the existential Western Jarmusch made back in 1995 with Johnny Depp, Ghost Dog may not win the idiosyncratic director any new admirers, but at least it shouldn't lose him any longtime fans either. Uncharacteristic of past Jarmusch fare insofar as it periodically stoops to indulge in the kind of ritual bloodletting common to any number of contemporary crime thrillers, the film's ongoing meditations on the nature of spiritualism and ancient, outmoded codes of honour and death, readily maintain a steady fascination. An imposing central performance from the well-cast Forest Whitaker is the glue that keeps the whole haunting essay in minimalism together."
Leo Cameron

"You've got to hand it to Jim Jarmusch. His more recent films may not have featured the most original stories, but he gives them such a wonderful offbeat flavour, any story deficiencies are quickly forgotten. In terms of its plot, Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is little more than a rehash of Jean-Pierre Melville's Le Samourai, peppered with homage to Kurosawa and Scorsese. But Jarmusch brings his idiosyncratic touch to the project, elevating it above mere honorific to something worthy in its own right. He creates an almost mythical universe inhabited only by Ghost Dog. He follows an ancient code, out of step with values in the outside world. When he ventures out of his little sphere, it's to wreak havoc at the bidding of his master. But it's certainly not all Zen and the art of assassination. Jarmusch injects plenty of humour, mainly through the gangster characters, who are a bunch of bumbling amateurs compared with the serene efficiency of Ghost Dog. DOP Robby Muller gives the film a wonderful look, despite the blighted landscape in which Ghost Dog moves. Forest Whitaker plays the title character with suitable inscrutability, while never losing sight of his essential humanity. And although he's no Toshiro Mifune when it comes to handling a sword, he more than makes up for it with his measured portrayal. Most of the other characters are significantly less developed and tend to be pushed aside, although Henry Silva strikes a terrific balance of menace and comedy as Mr Vargo. It's not mainstream fare, but Ghost Dog: Way of the Samurai is one film worth seeking out amidst the oncoming wave of blockbusters."
David Edwards

Email this article

Favourable: 3
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

'There are no heroes or villains', US Film Critic
Chrissa-Jean Chappell EXPLORES Ghost Dogs



CAST: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman, Henry Silva, Isaac de Bankole, Tricia Vessey, Victor Argo

PRODUCERS: Richard Guay, Jim Jarmsuch

DIRECTOR: Jim Jarmusch

SCRIPT: Jim Jarmusch


EDITOR: Jay Rabinowitz



RUNNING TIME: 116 minutes




VIDEO RELEASE: December 13, 2000

Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020