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Ghost Dog (July 10/01)

Ghost Dog is an exceedingly tough movie to categorize. It's not an action flick (though there is a considerable amount of violence), it's not exactly a drama, and it's certainly not a comedy - but it contains bits and pieces of those genres (and many more).

Forest Whitaker stars as the titular Ghost Dog, a mafia hitman who follows the code of the samurai (his life was once saved by a mafioso and - according to samurai rules - is now in his lifelong debt). One day, Dog is sent out on a job (which goes wrong) and afterwards finds himself the target of a hit. Now, he's got to eliminate them before they can eliminate him. Throughout, there are passages from some sort of samurai rulebook narrated by Dog.

It's no surprise that Ghost Dog was written and directed by the foremost purveyor of weirdness, Jim Jarmusch. With Ghost Dog, he has put together a strange and bizarre and thoroughly original story. Let's start with the pacing of the flick. This is yet another one of those movies containing a dreamy, laid-back pace - seemingly directionless - but constantly entertaining (somewhere along the lines of Sling Blade and The Minus Man). Jarmusch is clearly in no hurry to tell this tale and indeed, Whitaker doesn't speak his first word of dialogue until about half an hour into the movie (not counting his voiceovers). In fact, much of the first hour of Ghost Dog consists of Dog walking (and driving) about town, doing his business. This unique way of establishing a character took a while to get used to, but eventually, I was lulled by the relaxed storytelling.

Jarmusch doesn't allow us to get too complacent, though, by throwing in a few really vicious acts of violence (the fate of two bear hunters is particularly harsh, though completely deserved). Some of the action here is (for lack of a better word) cool. Dog is a mean dude (witness the scene in which he takes out an entire house full of mafia bad-asses) and he's not afraid of direct confrontations.

The acting is first rate all around, particularly (obviously) Whitaker. His quiet and reserved performance is easily the most prominent reason to watch Ghost Dog, but there are other stand outs as well. Henry Silva is great as a bitter old mafia guy, as are the rest of the mobsters.

Ghost Dog is the type of movie you really have to be in the mood for. Don't expect a fast-paced, thrilling action flick - you'll be disappointed. But if you're in the right mindset, Ghost Dog is definitely a rewarding (and entirely different) movie-watching experience.

out of