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a home + living guide for the post-college, pre-parenthood, quasi-adult generation

09.07.2000

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flick pick | Ghost Dog 1999
Directed + written by: Jim Jarmusch
Starring: Forest Whitaker, John Tormey, Henry Silva
Language: English
Look for it at the video store under: drama 
Watch it when you’re in the mood for something: 
artsy-fartsy, hip, serious
The verdict: ˝ / 5 the rating system explained

Plot synopsis Ghost Dog [Whitaker] is a sad-eyed, hulking black man, living alone – save the company of his pigeons -- on an inner-city rooftop, and following the teachings of Hakagure’s The Way of the Samurai as he executes periodic hits for Louie [Tormey], the local mobster who once saved his life. Ghost Dog serves Louie faithfully, performing his jobs with perfect, calm precision and maintaining constant respect. But when he inadvertently performs a hit right in front of the head mobster’s daughter, the Mafiosi are not pleased. They order a hit on Ghost Dog – only problem is, no one, not even Louie, seems to know a thing about the mysterious warrior. Louie doesn’t even know where Ghost Dog lives, since their communications have always taken place solely via carrier pigeon, but his bosses have made it clear: he’ll have to kill Ghost Dog, or be killed himself.

Review Forest Whitaker has a great face. With his heavy-lidded left eye and broad, scarred face, he looks simultaneously threatening, sage and capable of great compassion. All of which makes him absolutely perfect as the titular character, and the primary reason that Ghost Dog is so engaging. Don’t let the word "samurai" in the title fool you: this is no action movie. There’s some bloody gunplay, a single, beautifully poetic rooftop sword scene, some deliberately, hilariously absurd dialogue (example: Ghost Dog’s best friend is a Haitian ice cream vendor who doesn’t speak a word of English. Ghost Dog doesn’t understand a word of French. The two "converse" perfectly nonetheless), and a whole lot of slow-moving, dreamy sequences following Ghost Dog around in a lonely contemporary cityscape. If the parallels between modern mob culture/gang culture and ancient Japanese values whoosh right over your head, you’ll still find plenty to like in the film’s endearingly offbeat characters, elegant stylistic pastiche (Jarmusch alludes to everything from Scorsese-esque mob dramas, to samurai films, to classic cartoons), and grooving hip-hop soundtrack.
reviewed by Y. Sun 

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