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Ghost Dog

Rated [R], 115 minutes
Starring Forrest Whitaker, John Tormey and Cliff Gorman.
Written and Directed by Jim Jarmusch

This review by our West-coast based correspondent Paul Fischer. Click here for Cranky's review.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) spends his nights living clandestinely among his pigeon friends atop an apartment building and spends his days as a for-hire assassin for the mob in New York. He adheres to the strict code and writings found in an ancient Samurai text. No one knows much about him -- who he is, where he lives, or his modus operandi -- with the exception of mob capo Louie (John Tormey), who once saved his life. He's never forgotten the kindness bestowed upon him by Louie, and thus becomes an adroit, loyal hitman for the Mafia.

Louie hires Ghost Dog for a routine hit: to kill Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow), who's sleeping with the boss' daughter, Louise (Tricia Vessey). The hit goes well, and he puts Louise on a bus to get her out of town. Alas, she comes back, and mob boss Vargo (Henry Silva) pins the blame squarely on Ghost Dog. The word is out that a hit is ordered on Ghost Dog -- who often spouts words of wisdom from an ancient Samurai text -- but he remains adamant in his respect and protection for Louie; he goes after every other member of the family, though.

Throughout much of his career, idiosyncratic filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has made films that reflect a slightly twisted and anarchic view of American society. His films weren't for everyone, but his loyal fan base appreciated the world he created, and the characters he so deliciously delineated. His latest film, Ghost Dog, has been described as the director's most accessible film, whatever that means. It's not so much that it's accessible, it's simply a richer more mature piece than many that came before. It is also his most pointed allegory yet on the state of Americana. Jarmusch has ingeniously taken an age-old genre, the Rise and fall of the American gangster, and breathed an audacious new life into a staple facet of American culture. Here is a film that is gangster drama, modern Western, dark comedy and a philosophical and intellectual journey. The film is peppered with Jarmusch's usual conglomeration of oddball characters, which are colourful and engaging. His principal creation, however, is a compelling character that so beautifully carries the narrative through its marvellous conclusion. Forest Whitaker delivers a performance of utter credibility, thoughtful, profound, sardonically funny and vivid. He is arresting here, and Jarmusch's cameras follow him with consistent fluidity.

Ghost Dog is a visual triumph, an impressive and stunning examination of self and journey, through conventional territory. Apart from Whitaker, wonderful work is also supplied by Cliff Gorman, as a rap-loving gangster, while Henry Silva's deadpan Boss (who is fascinated by cartoons) is a gem of a characterisation. With an evocative hip-hop score that enhances theme and mood, and a crackling, intelligent and ingeniously funny script, Ghost Dog, The Way of the Samurai, is a film full of constant pleasures that abound. For Jarmusch fans and beyond, this is a rewarding and stimulating masterpiece.

Paul also sat down with Whittaker for a one on one StarTalk, click here.


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