Original indie-hipster Jim Jarmusch ("Down By Law", "Night On Earth") seems to be well outside his usual territory here, yet "Ghost Dog" not only hangs together, it's original, sharply funny, and rather moving. Forest Whitaker is Ghost Dog, a hitman trying to live by an ancient Japanese warrior code. Carrying out a hit for the mob, Ghost Dog spares a witness and finds himself in confrontation with his employers. This isn't the Mafia we've come to know through the movies. It's more like a club for ageing Italian-Americans who refuse to see that times have moved on. And they appear to be no match for Ghost Dog's high-tech tool kit and Zen stealth.
In terms of its basic plot, "Ghost Dog" is an utterly conventional film. In terms of everything else, it is anything but. Jarmusch packs it with oblique jokes and odd touches. The old Mafia guys discuss hip-hop, everyone watches cartoons, "Ghost Dog" bonds with a young girl he meets based on a shared belief in the self-improving power of reading. And his closest friendship is with Haitian ice cream man Raymond (Isaach De Bankolé): Ghost Dog speaks only English, Raymond only French, but their empathy is no weaker for it.
Propelled by an excellent score, "Ghost Dog" is more dynamic than Jarmusch's early films, while still fairly leisurely by anyone else's standards. But that gives Whitaker time to make Ghost Dog believable, sympathetic and, yes, cool. By a long shot, it is the finest performance of Whitaker's career.
Our weakness for killers on the screen still doesn't make much sense, but when a film is this good, you forget to worry.
Read a review of the DVD.