Forest Whitaker did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Ghost Dog in Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai.
Forest Whitaker certainly is not the first man you think of when you think of samurai or even a modern samurai, but Whitaker could not be more comfortable in the role of the stoic man who takes pride in the ideas found in a book that outlines the purpose of the samurai. Whitaker's performance is that of finding a consistent tone and sticking with it through the film. This is the nature of the character who is very firm in his belief of following the code of the Samurai to the letter, he is not one of those atypical ones played by Toshiro Mifune. Whitaker plays Ghost Dog who does not just talk about being a samurai he walks the walks right down to an undying loyalty to his retainer even if the retainer does not deserve it.
Whitaker gives a fully physical performance in his portrayal of Ghost Dog as there is a certain way he moves and walks that is very telling of his character. The samurai can be seen in his movements and Whitaker is quite effective in showing Ghost Dog as a man so utterly devoted to his ideals that he is one with them. There is such grace in his performance in every movement. There is not a wrong step he is always the samurai in every movement. Whitaker makes this an interesting performance just to watch, and he is especially good in the pivotal action scene late in the film. The way he uses his gun is not that of an action hero, or even gangster. Whitaker makes the movements that of artist at work much like a samurai with his sword.
In his scenes of non-violence Whitaker gives a very unassuming performance that works well as he makes Ghost Dog just a man of quiet reflection. Whitaker has an innate likability as an actor to begin, but he is particularly splendid here in his portrayal of Ghost Dog who might have strange morals but morals that he does stick to. Whitaker stays with his character's nature the whole film through and this easily could have made him seem an uninteresting character but Whitaker makes it work. Whitaker brings to life the devotion of Ghost Dog to life in a gentle and even believable fashion. Whitaker makes it simple by being entirely genuine with the part. He makes the nature of Ghost Dog something very honest in the film.
Ghost Dog certainly is a most unusual film lead by a most unusual hero with a most unusual casting. Forest Whitaker does not seem strange in the part in the slightest though he makes it his own. This is a performance about the creation of the character and his creation of Ghost Dog is an endearing and strangely fascinating sort. Every action take by the Ghost Dog is realized by Whitaker's assured performance and even the final actions of Ghost Dog, which could have seemed completely absurd and frankly they are completely absurd, but Whitaker makes it work because he makes Ghost Dog a philosophy such a part of him. Whitaker makes him the samurai in every other way, from his manner in violence to his thoughts on every day things, therefore Ghost Dog would even have to stay with the fatal fault of the samurai code.