Mixing elements of both Eastern and Western culture, Jim Jarmusch’s Ghost Dog stands as the filmmaker’s own unique take on the well-worn gangster genre. The titular character (Forest Whitaker in what is perhaps his greatest performance),a contract killer for the mafia devoted to the Samurai code, comes under fire after a miscalculated hit.
Set in an urban area inside a state identified only by its license plates (“The Industrial State”), Jarmusch seems much more concerned with slow-moving, meditative comparisons between “old school” and “new school.” The gangsters in the film are a far cry from those in The Godfather (the underboss of the family finds himself effectively shaken down for rent at one of his haunts). In fact, most are downright stupid, and it’s clear Jarmusch and his actors are having a blast poking fun at these aging wannabes. Indeed, when Ghost Dog isn’t calmly ruminating on the decay of honor it is slyly funny.
It is an effortlessly cool movie, aided by Whitaker’s powerful, stoic performance as well as RZA’s music score. For Wu-Tang fans, Ghost Dog becomes almost the perfect movie, with its mash-up of samurai, hip-hop, and gangster elements often feeling like a visual representation of the Clan’s music. Jarmusch manages to keep the film unbelievably cool (Whitaker draws and holster’s his pistols as if they were Samurai swords) even amidst abstract, philosophical sequences between Ghost Dog and his ice cream salesman friend who speaks only French. It’s an off-beat and wonderful experience. For as much violence as there is, Ghost Dog is ultimately as quiet, meditative, and stoic as its titular character.