David Lean is firing on all cylinders here -- at times, this is a master class in how to tell a story visually and smartly -- with a cast that sadly doesn't always warrant it. Lean's greatest epics are held up by his casts, and here you have an ensemble that seems either horribly miscast or not quite game for the material at hand. Then you have John Mills, giving it his all in a horribly misconstrued performance that brings everything down around it.
It amazes me that this came out in 1962, the same year as John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, because they are woven from the same cloth. They are about taking a nation's legacy of masculinity and beginning to unravel it -- asking us what it really takes to be noble and how that nobility may be based on nothing but lies. I don't know enough about the samurai genre to know how much of a bold deconstruction this is, but every frame feels like something new and fresh.
An astonishing piece of filmmaking, near the end of when Hollywood allowed filmmakers to make these big historical epics on this scale (although giving that to an African-American director was unheard of even then). Perhaps the most remarkable part of this film is how Singleton lets the entire film simmer and keeps turning up the heat. The film walks us through exactly how a massacre like this can happen, taking us incident by incident and letting everything unfurl at a…