Ghost Dog
The Way of the Samurai

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) and his best friend Raymond (De Bankolé) look down on the city from the rooftop...
dir-scr Jim Jarmusch
with Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Isaach De Bankolé, Cliff Gorman, Henry Silva, Victor Argo, Tricia Vessey, Gene Ruffini, Richard Portnow, Camille Winbush, Frank Minucci, Vince Viverito
99/US 4 out of 5 stars

Leave it to eccentric filmmaker Jim Jarmusch to make a mafia comedy about a samurai! Ghost Dog is at times hilarious and very violent, but it's also an engagingly quirky story about life, death and loyalty.

Ghost Dog (Whitaker) lives with his carrier pigeons on an urban rooftop and follows the advice of an ancient samurai guidebook. He works as a hitman for his "master", a second-rate mafioso Louie (Tormey) who once saved his life. Effective and unnoticed, Ghost Dog's legend builds as he moves quietly through the city with very few friends--his best friend (a lively ice cream vendor played by the wonderful De Bankolé) doesn't even speak English! But then Louie's bumbling mob makes a mistake and calls for Ghost Dog's elimination. And he will not go down with out a fight.

As Ghost Dog eliminates his opponents one-by-one, Jarmusch keeps the story ambling along perfectly, drawing the humour from the characters. The mobsters (played with glee by a cast of veterans) are obsessed with violent cartoons; their dialogue is absolutely hilarious. And Whitaker is excellent as the quietly intense counterpoint, quoting from his bible, caring for his pigeons, swapping books with a young girl (Winbush) he meets in the park ... and inventively eliminating the entire mafia until he comes face-to-face with his master in the clever, complex finale. This isn't a blockbuster action film--it's a small, offbeat, extremely well-crafted little film that's full of terrific touches. It's also the funniest mob comedy in years.

[15--themes, strong violence, language] 22.Oct.99
US release 10.Mar.00; UK release 28.Apr.00

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© 1999 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall