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    Ghost Dog

    The whole sworded story

    Forest Whitaker is outstanding as a brooding killer trying to avoid getting whacked by the mob in Jim Jarmusch's typically offbeat "Ghost Dog."


    He moves through the night with the lumbering bulk of the grizzly bear and the stealth of the sleek panther. He cruises the urban NYC streets in stolen luxury cars listening to his favorite gangsta grooves on the surround sound. He worships at a makeshift altar with incense and oranges. He sleeps with the pigeons.

    Full title: Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
    Written and directed by: Jim Jarmusch.
    Cast: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Cliff Gorman, Henry Silva, Isaach De Bankole, Tricia Vessey, Victor Argo, Gene Ruffini, Richard Portnow, Camille Winbush.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    When he strikes, his hits are swift, effortless, and final. He is Ghost Dog and his ways are those of the Samurai.

    He, Ghost Dog, is played by Forest Whitaker in a lumbering, sleek performance and he, Whitaker, is directed by Jim Jarmusch, the decidedly inventive filmmaker of such oddball classics as "Stranger than Paradise" and "Night on Earth."

    Whether or not you're a Jarmusch fan, it's hard to deny that his films — quintessential indie successes all — have all paid strong attention to casting. Think John Lurie's laconic, deadpan turn in the melancholic "Stranger than Paradise," or Screamin' Jay Hawkins as the larger-than-life concierge of "Mystery Train," or Johnny Depp in "Dead Man." And let's not forget Roberto Benigni's star-making role in "Down by Law."

    So, too, with Whitaker in "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai." He's a standout.

    Ghost Dog  
    Ghost Dog is a professional killer who lives the life of an 18th-century Samurai. His bible is the "Hagakure," a little ivory book which contains the ancient rites and rituals of the Japanese warrior and from which Whitaker narrates, in voiceover, accompanying the film's periodic title-boards. Ghost Dog is devoutly loyal to his Lord and Master, a small-time mobster called Louie (John Tormey), who once saved his life. Unfortunately, Ghost Dog's latest contract now has its "complications" and the bosses who ordered the hit want Ghost Dog whacked.

    With his hooded fleece pulled up high above his head like a monk's habit, Ghost Dog moves from hit to hit with a briefcase full of guns and gadgets and a brooding look on his benevolent face. Although his reputation is that he speaks to no one and has no friends, Ghost Dog shares some literary advice with a young girl he meets in the park, and "converses" with his best friend, a French-speaking Caribbean ice-cream vendor who understands no English. (Odd. Jarmusch himself appeared as an ice-cream vendor in Billy Bob Thornton's accomplished "Sling Blade." But anyway . . .)

    This is a thoughtful, compelling performance from Whitaker — would that they gave awards for this kind of film.

    In truth, Jarmusch's latest outing doesn't have much more than a "mysterious contract killer hounded by disloyal crime syndicate" plotline at its center but, as in all of his films, the writer/director embellishes a simple storyline with richly drawn characters, evocative music (here provided by hip-hop artist THE RZA), lush photography (Ghost Dog is shot from end-to-end by veteran cinematographer Robby Muller), and a wicked sense of humor. There's a scene in which Louie tries to explain to a trio of crime lords (Cliff Gorman, Henry Silva, and Victor Argo, fantastic faces all) just how little he knows about Ghost Dog that is truly hysterical.

    From its evocative, pigeon's-eye-view opener to its closing high-noon showdown, "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" is another offbeat gem from the offbeat, irreverent genius of Jim Jarmusch. And it's the latest in a long string of excellent performances from Forest Whitaker.

    MARCH 22, 2000

    Reader comments on Ghost Dog:

  • GREAT   from J Conrad, Sep 10, 2000
  • beautiful!   from Michelle Otto, Jan 12, 2001
  • GRRRREAT!   from Niklas, Nov 23, 2000
  • [no subject]   from mehra, Dec 24, 2000
  • try beat it   from paulc, Feb 6, 2001
  • one of my favorite movie   from sam, May 10, 2002
  • Ghostdog   from Chriz, Dec 10, 2002

  • Post a comment on "Ghost Dog"