One man who is fighting against his demons must rise above himself to not only save himself but an entire nation as well that isn’t even his own. It is just before the Civil War and during the American Indian Wars that one man whose deeds and what he has seen hunts him. Hi has nightmares about the past and what it did to him, so bad are the memories that he has taken to drinking constantly to try and drown them out. Not only do they haunt his sleep but they haunt his every waking moment as well. He knows no peace and in some ways feels that he doesn’t even deserve any peace, such is the life of Captain Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise)
Nathan is a highly decorated soldier who feels that he has not done anything that deserved such and honor. Some of the things that he did was to follow orders and to keep from getting shot himself for not following them. His days are filled with drink, regret and trying to sell guns at carnivals and retelling tales from his time as a soldier. That is where his old friend Zebulon Gant (Billy Connolly) finds him, right after Nathan got himself fired. Gant has a job opportunity for him and when Nathan asks what it is he tells him that it is a job that only those two were suited for, killing. It is the Japanese government that wants to hire them to train soldiers in the western ways to combat local uprisings in their country.
Nathan seems happy till he finds out that it is Colonel Bagley (Tony Goldwyn) who has set the whole thing up at the request of Omura (Masato Harada) for the Meiji government of Japan. At the meeting his is belligerent and condescending to Bagley and demand more money then what was offered and then walks out. The Colonel catches up with him and Algren tells him that for $500 a week he would kill anyone that he wanted but warns the Colonel that he would happily kill him for nothing. He hates him for what he forced Nathan to do during the Indian Wars and how he was forced to kill unarmed peaceful Native Americans. It was those actions that most haunt him and he hates the Colonel for it.
The Meiji government of Japan wants to modernize and is building a railroad through the provinces to bring them all closer together. The problem is two fold but the main one is that a samurai rebellion is going on against the Westernization of their country, lead by Katsumoto (Ken Watanabe). Laws are being passed to strip them of their ranks, titles, lands and even their swords and ways of life. It is this that Nathan is being hired to prepare troops for. He is to train the conscripts to fight against these native warriors that use bows and arrows and the sword in their fights. He is to teach them to shoot straight and stand their ground against what the enemy might throw at them. He has much work to do and before he can finish it he is ordered to take the men into battle, even though he knows that they are not ready.
It is that one battle that is to change his life forever. It is his capture and imprisonment that is going to free him and his life forever in ways that he could never have known. It will give him the peace that he has sought for years but never known. For the first time in years he will be sober and find a cause to actually live for and what it is to truly be Samurai, the servant of the people. That is where the true story begins with this film and all the rest before is just the backdrop of the stage that is now set. Without the back story none of the rest would make any sense to western viewers because they do not know the history of Japan or understand many of the concepts that they take for granted every single day. Many of those concepts and practices are shown in the film to give you some sense in what it means to be a member of that community.
This film is full of grace and beauty even as it is filled with the slaughter and carnage of blood gory battle. The viewer gets to see full scale battle and just how a small force is able to force an even bigger force to relent, even in defeat. When watching this be prepared to not understand what is happening but be willing to watch and learn as to what is going on. If you don’t get one part you will see it explained later on in much the same way that Nathan has to learn what is happening as he goes on. The film is a journey of discovery not only for the main character but of that of the audience as well. Let the film both teach and entertain you but remember that not all that is learned is all that there is to learn. If you don’t get that statement then you haven’t really watched the film or studied history that much.
I give this film a Musing review of