Directed By Jim Jarmusch
By: Eric G.
There is no way to tell from the previews how stylish this movie actually is. All you see is Forest Whitaker swinging a sword alone on a dank rooftop covered in pigeon shit. The promotional company obviously didn’t market this one very well. My friends were convinced that the theater would be packed with Wu-Tang Clan fans since RZA did the soundtrack, but I had my doubts and placed a bet that there would be less than twelve people in the whole theater. I reminded them that this was, after all, a film by Jim Jarmusch. My friends just kept saying “but RZA”, implying that that would automatically bring out the crowd. Sixteen people showed up- I lost the bet but made my point.
Ghost Dog is the story about a modern day Samurai who becomes a silent assassin for an ham-fisted mob underling. Jarmusch plays up all stereotypes with a deprecating sense of humor. The mob guys are mostly incompetent and obsessed with violent cartoons that, in a clever technique, eerily foreshadow events to come. One of the mob guys even sings along with Public Enemy songs, specifically Flavor Flav’s parts. Forest Whitaker is Ghost Dog, a zen-like Samurai, who takes his philosophy very seriously. He has devoted himself to a cowardly mob man for saving his live years earlier. They communicate only through carrier pigeons, and their system is flawless until one of the assassinations doesn’t go as planned. Now the mob wants Ghost Dog dead.
Jarmusch mixes urban edginess with slapstick hilarity in one of the most unconventional gangster films you’ll ever see. Ghost Dog is a far cry from Goodfellas even though they both share many of the same themes. Jarmusch takes cliches and turns them into uncomfortable comedy, whereas Scorsese takes cliches and turns them into ultra-violence. RZA’s score is full of sparse beats and creepy keyboard lines. The rapping is obtrusive to the mood, but the instrumental breaks make up for it. Whitaker always brings a detached sense of melancholy to his roles, so it’s easy to forget that he directed Hope Floats. Jarmusch intersperses the film with pertinent aphorisms read in a voice-over narration by Ghost Dog, which conveys a meditative eloquence and keeps the pacing in check.
Ghost Dog is like the urban version of The Professional. Similar to Jean Reno’s character, Ghost Dog offers no explanation as to why he’s ended up an untraceable assassin. He befriends an innocent girl, to whom he wants to pass on the teachings of the Samurai. We can’t help but sympathize with Ghost Dog even though his respect for human life is negligible just like The Professional’s. Jarmusch carefully avoids conventionality. This is by no means an action film, although there are gruesome shootouts and brutal deaths. The time between the bursts of violence would stave off the typical action film aficionado. Keep in mind this is the same man who directed Dead Man and Year Of The Horse.
Ghost Dog isn’t so arty that it will alienate the average filmgoer, but Jarmusch sneaks in enough quirks to please the art-house crowd. The film is incredibly self-aware and ultra-cool, full of clever techniques and a studied director’s signature touch.