Forest Whitaker is Ghost Dog, an African-American hit man obsessed with adhering to the ancient code of the Samurai warrior. As such, he singularly devotes himself to his "master" Louie (John Tormey), your typical Mafia goombah.
After 12 successful hits, Ghost Dog finally screws up when a young woman unexpectedly witnesses one. That the young woman happens to be the daughter of the mob boss who ordered the hit complicates matters for Louie, who is told by his mob friends that he has to find Ghost Dog and do away with him. The only explanation? "He killed one of our own."
This simple setup allows writer/director Jarmusch plenty of time to explore the various themes of honor, friendship, and loyalty that run through his seriocomic story, as well as his usual wry take on modern Americana, seen through the eyes of "outsiders" (in this case, gangsters, gangstas, and a Haitian immigrant). As in his previous feature Dead Man, Jarmusch specifically targets the cult of violence as a regrettable but permanent aspect of American life.
I admire Jarmusch very much as a filmmaker; he's an intellectual, but he's crafty enough to hide his intellectualism behind his trademark deadpan wit and languid, absurdist style. Thus, his films consistently come across as hip and clever, rather than preachy or pretentious. But the film's disturbing scenes of casual racism and violence are hard to shake, and it's pretty clear where Jarmusch's heart lies.
The entire cast is first-rate, especially Whitaker, who's got one of the saddest faces I've ever seen. I highly recommend Ghost Dog; it's not too much to say that of all the films out there right now, this is the one to catch. It's a smart, moody, tense, important work.