I always say the Western is a uniquely American film creation and I stand by that one, but it doesn’t mean other countries can’t do good Westerns. For quite a bit of The Twilight Samurai, it’s a fine haunted gunman Western, Unforgiven and Open Range being other examples of this form. It never quite makes it, however….
The biggest problem is pacing. Twilight is slow and there are narrative problems throughout. It’s got narration from one of the protagonist’s daughters, past tense, which isn’t bad… if the film were a father/daughter picture. But it’s not (apparently the Japanese, who’ve embraced the family drama as Hollywood has discarded it, aren’t touching that one either). The film closes with a Oscar-nomination ready scene with the daughter in her present day, probably the mid-1900s. Such a lovely end-piece invalidates everything the film fought for (just like Yoda says in Empire).
The film also fails on some basic technical levels of cheating the viewer out of necessary scenes. It’s not really shortcutting (my prime example of shortcutting is It Happened One Night, with neither of the leads appearing in the denouement), because these are peripheral characters. But they deserve closure. According to IMDb, the film is based on three novels, which explains… nothing, actually. Yes, Twilight feels like it was a novel, but it doesn’t feel like an amalgam. Wait, wait. I forgot. It does make some promises regarding the father/daughter relationship, then fails to deliver. Damn good scene too.
The acting is all good, the lead in particular. I love how Hollywood can no longer make period pieces but everyone else in the world can. It’s kind of depressing.