|THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS (1992)|
|"Death and honor are thought to be the same, but today I have learned that sometimes they are not."|
|Time: 114 mins.|
Won Academy Award for Best Sound.
I remember just loving this movie when it first came out. It has everything I look for in a good cinema experience action, adventure, true love and a really gorgeous leading man. There's not a woman on the planet that could resist the powerful gaze and sculpted body of Daniel Day-Lewis. He's an amazing actor who transforms himself for every role he plays. He's so good here, he even manages to keep most of his dialogue from being completely hokey. On top of that, I'm just a sucker for a good historical romantic epic. LAST OF THE MOHICANS certainly captures the danger of the colonial wilderness and made me glad I was born in the 20th century.
This would be a film most men would loathe if it weren't for the almost constant bloodshed. Between the myriad Indian raids and the battle between the French and English forces, I'm amazed anyone survived frontier living. The core of the film is its love story, but the path to happily ever after is strewn with mutilated bodies. The violence in this film is primitive and gory. If you're at all squeamish, you'll have your eyes closed through half the movie. Which isn't to say the violence is overly excessive, it's part of the story and a real threat during that time of our country's history. I, however, wish that Mann was perhaps a little less true to life.
The film takes place during the time of the French and Indian War in the area surrounding upper state New York. It follows the trials and tribulations of Nathaniel (Day-Lewis), an expert tracker who was raised by the Mohican indians after his parents died, and Cora Munro (Stowe), an Englishwoman on her way to see her father who's a colonel for the British. Cora and her younger sister Alice (May) set out from Albany to meet up with their father. Major Heyward (Waddington), who wants to marry Cora, and Magua (Studi), an Indian guide, accompany them on their journey. Unfortunately for them, Magua has no intention of delivering them alive. Lucky for them, Nathaniel, his father Chingachgook (Means) and brother Uncas (Schweig) were following the war party and arrive in time to keep them from being slaughtered. Not wanting them to fall into the wrong hands a second time, Nathaniel agrees to take them to the fort. Along the way, he and Cora form a bond that only good looks and grave danger can bring to fruition so quickly.
She doesn't always understand what he's doing, but she soon learns that his actions are in their best interest. His goal is to get her to her father alive. When they do finally get there, they learn that the fort is about to fall and how deep Magua's betrayal goes. During the bombardment Nathaniel and Cora find a quiet spot to consummate their relationship. The high doesn't last long. Nathaniel is arrested for treason by Colonel Munro based on damning testimony from the jealous Heyward. The English promised to let the local militia men return home if the French and Indians started raiding their homesteads. Munro refuses to let the men leave, claiming that one slaughtered family is not enough evidence. Not owing allegiance to anyone but his friends, Nathaniel helps the militia men escape, but stays because of Cora. She tries to clear his name, but no one believes the protestations of a woman.
It soon becomes clear that without the possibility of reinforcements, Munro has no choice but to surrender the fort to the French. They promise safe passage for the English, as long as they all return to Britain. Magua has a different agenda. Though in league with the French, he wants Munro and his daughters dead. A large war party attacks the unsuspecting troops and takes no prisoners. Nathaniel, his father and brother, manage to bring the women to safety. Unfortunately, with no ammunition they have no way of protecting them. The men leave, vowing to return for them. The final battle with Magua over the fate of the ladies does not go particularly well for either group. In the end, Nathaniel and Cora are together, but it's a high price to pay for love.
I have no idea how accurate this film is in regards to the actual history of the French and Indian War. What's clear is that this conflict had everyone but the Indian's best interests at heart as both the French and the British vied for land that was not theirs. The Indians were forced to choose sides if they wanted to keep their villages from being destroyed. All I can say about the battle scenes is that they looked horribly accurate to me and if it was actually worse, I'm glad Mann cleaned it up. It's amazing, that despite several brutal raids, the unarmed ladies remain unscathed. However, that's to be expected. Many people were stunned by the casting of Day-Lewis in this extremely physical role, but he's great as the fierce, yet intelligent Nathaniel. Stowe does an admirable job as Cora, giving a great performance despite having very little to do but look scared. Jodhi May will break your heart at the very end of the film. She has a very small role in this film and even less than Stowe to work with, yet her final scene will take your breath away. You want to hate Steve Waddington who plays the spineless Heyward, but lucky for him Wes Studi is even more evil. I have never seen such hatred in a character's eyes. Though he's cruel and unflinching, a small part of me felt bad for Magua and his people.
The cinematography, set design, costumes and music are all spectacular. The score will stay with you for days. Unlike some movies, Mann finds the right balance for the music, using it as a complement to the film instead of having it blare at top volume throughout. My one problem with the script is the dialogue, which at many points goes beyond trite and winds up at completely silly. Most women would swoon with delight when Nathaniel screams to Cora, "Stay alive no matter what. I will find you. No matter how long it takes." It's so over-the-top I can't help but laugh whenever I see that scene. Plus, the matte shot of the waterfall is so awful it's quite obvious the waterfall was added later you can't help but wonder why they didn't correct it when the rest of the film is so crisp and beautiful.
The amazing thing about the script is that you're drawn into the story even though there isn't much of one there. Unlike the book, which delves quite deeply into the reasons behind the warfare, the film skims over that info, using it mainly as a backdrop to the love story. Still, Mann manages to keep you on the edge of your seat despite the lack of dialogue or character development. Of course, it's not hard to build suspense when your characters are constantly fighting for their lives. LAST OF THE MOHICANS is definitely one of Mann's better films. Like THE INSIDER, he has a story to tell and he tells it well, finding just the right actors to bring the film to life. This may not be Day-Lewis's best performance, but it sure is his sexiest. This happens to be a perfect date movie: just enough romance to keep the ladies interested and enough bloodshed for the men to forget that this is basically a love story. This film certainly won't go down as a classic, but it sure is damn good entertainment.