Epic Action Drama. Set in Japan during the 1870s, The Last Samurai tells the story of Capt. Nathan Algren (Tom Cruise), a respected American military officer hired by the Emperor of Japan to train the country's first army in the art of modern warfare. As the Emperor attempts to eradicate the ancient Imperial Samurai warriors in preparation for more Westernized and trade-friendly government policies, Algren finds himself unexpectedly impressed and influenced by his encounters with the Samurai, which places him at the center of a struggle between two eras and two worlds, with only his own sense of honor to guide him.
No actor works harder to open a movie than Tom Cruise. His enthusiasm is throughout the DVD extras as he mirrors his samurai character by constantly talking about "loyalty" and "discipline" while working on the film. However as a post-movie experience, the top-line extras with Cruise and director Edward Zwick are repetitive and underwhelming, with too many clips from the film we assume DVD viewers have just seen. The History Channel show is also a pre-release promotional device that misses an opportunity to really dig into this intriguing time period. Better are segments on the costumes, the production design, and how you put together an Imperial army--in New Zealand, no less. Zwick's low-key and dense commentary (plus a "Video Journal") is not vital, but he illustrates many of the little peculiarities it took to make the wide-ranging film come together. There are two deleted scenes; a samurai's first appearance is particularly memorable. --Doug Thomas