Back in 2003, Tom Cruise starred in Edward Zwick's The Last Samurai, a film chronicling the fall of the samurai at the hands of a tactical collaboration between an increasingly modern Japanese government, its Emperor and the US.
If you can get past the idea of Tom Cruise as a samurai and the fact that this is basically Dances With Wolves in a different setting, then The Last Samurai is actually a very good film. Cruise plays disillusioned, alcoholic former US Army Captain Nathan Algren, who is haunted by the memories of massacres involving Native American civilians, as he is hired to help train the Japanese army. He reluctantly agrees to travel to Japan and teach the Japanese soldiers how to use modern weaponry but he is captured after an impromptu battle against the samurai and is brought back to a village where he gets to know Ken Watanabe's Lord Mastumoto, the leader of the samurai rebellion, and learns the ways of the samurai. Realising how much of an underdog the samurai really are having been betrayed by their new Emperor and essentially wiped out, Algren starts training on their side and eventually joins them in their fight against the Japanese army and the Americans.
As derivative and predictable as it is, The Last Samurai remains a compelling, really well made historical epic with a solid cast that includes Hiroyuki Sanada, Timothy Spall and Billy Connolly plus beautiful cinematography and exciting fight scenes. It's quickly apparent that this was very much a story worth telling even if you have a pretty good idea of how it ends from the get-go. Captain Algren's journey from a down-and-out sharp shooter haunted by his past to an unlikely hero is completely believable. This is a bittersweet story looking at the end of the old world and the birth of a new one from the point of view of the underdogs and although this is likely to be a much more romanticized version of the real events, the film's heart is certainly in the right place. Cruise does a great job both with the action scenes and the more emotional moments. The film itself looks beautiful and is appropriately epic yet also human despite a couple of clichéd lines near the end.
If not one of the most original and memorable war movies out there, The Last Samurai remains a worthwhile film with some excellent cinematography, perfectly choreographed battle scenes and sword fights not to mention strong performances throughout.