Much has been made about how authentic "The Last of the Mohicans" is, about how the cast learned wilderness survival skills and how every bow, arrow, canoe and moccasin was constructed according to the ancient ways. That's the kind of publicity Cecil B. DeMille used to churn out, as if he had created a brand new world from scratch, like God.
I am the first to confess I know little about how people really lived in the first decades of the European settlement of North America, but while I was watching "The Last of the Mohicans," I was haunted by memories of another movie -- "Black Robe" (1991), set in the earliest days of the French settlement of Quebec. This was a long and depressing film by Bruce Beresford, who went to great pains to recreate the actual living conditions in North America at the time of his story: the architectural details of the Indian dwellings, their methods of hunting and food procurement, the way they used absolute cooperation and trust of each other as a weapon against the deadly climate.
"Black Robe" did not involve me in its story, but its visual picture of life in those days has stayed with me. Watching "The Last of the Mohicans," I could not get it out of my mind. As the handsome frontiersman Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) decides whether to join the troops being raised by the British to fight the French, as he falls in love with the daughter of a British officer (Madeleine Stowe in a fetching performance), as he sides with the Mohicans who have adopted him and they face the threat of the Huron tribe which opposes them, I was acutely conscious of the Saturday matinee traditions being exploited.
I was also aware that I was enjoying the movie more than "Black Robe." Michael Mann, who directed "The Last of the Mohicans," says that his first conscious movie memory was of the 1936 film version of the same story, starring Randolph Scott, and indeed Philip Dunne's screenplay for that movie is cited as a source for this one.
It is also inspired, of course, by the novel by James Fenimore Cooper, whose frontier fantasies were completely demolished in an hilarious essay by Mark Twain, who noted that whenever the plot required a twig to be stepped on, a Cooper character was able to find a twig and step on it, no matter what the difficulty.
Mann's film is quite an improvement on Cooper's all but unreadable book, and a worthy successor to the Randolph Scott version. In Daniel Day-Lewis he has found the right actor to play Hawkeye, even though no other role ever played by Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot", "A Room with a View", "My Beautiful Laundrette" ") would remotely suggest that. There are just enough historical and political details; the movie touches quickly on the fine points of British-French-Indian-settler conflicts, so that they can get on to the story we're really interested in, about the hero who wins the heart of the girl.
"The Last of the Mohicans" is not as authentic and uncompromised as it claims to be -- more of a matinee fantasy than it wants to admit -- but it is probably more entertaining as a result.
The scenes of forest-fighting follow all the usual Hollywood rules: the hero rarely misses, and the villains rarely hit anyone needed later in the story. Remembering the sickening thuds of weapon against bone in "Black Robe," I realized I was looking at a sanitized entertainment, but I didn't care.
I was also not much disturbed by the movie's pre-digested history (how many people, even after seeing this movie, could correctly report that the French and Indian Wars were not between the French and the Indians?). We live in an age of pop images, in which these are the parts that get remembered: Hawkeye, a white man, adopted by Indians, standing between the two civilizations at a time when the Indians were richer and more powerful than the settlers; his decision to escort the British officer's daughter and her sister to the fort where their father awaits them; their adventures along the way, leading to death, bloodshed, and a stirring final shot of the couple gazing out toward the horizon -- toward all those millions of unspoiled square miles to be turned into shopping malls by the issue of their loins.
Movie Review: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Posted on October 28, 2015 by Lee.H.12
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- Director: Michael Mann
- Rating: R
- Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means
- Screenplay: Michael Mann & Christopher Crowe
- Based on the Novel by: James Fenimore Cooper
- Music By: Randy Edelman & Trevor Jones
- Cinematography: Dante Spinotti
- Running Time: 112 Minutes
- Premiered: September 25, 1992
- DVD Release Date: November 23, 1999
Synopsis: British and French troops battle in colonial America, with aid from various native American war parties. The British troops enlist the help of local colonial militia men, who are reluctant to leave their homes undefended. A budding romance between a British officer’s daughter and an independent man who was reared as a Mohican complicates things for the British officer, as the adopted Mohican pursues his own agenda despite the wrath of different people on both sides of the conflict. (From IMDb)
Review: Every now and then a movie comes along that I cannot stop watching. When I was 17, The Last of the Mohicans was that movie. I think I watched every day for two weeks before my obsession faded. And I have not watched it since. ] I still listen to the soundtrack, but have no desire to watch the film ever again. The Last of the Mohicans is based on the novel of the same name by James Fenimore Cooper. I gave the novel a chance and called it quits after the fifth page. Convoluted is an understatement. Mann’s movie takes the key points of the novel and crafts a nearly brand new narrative. The result is an excellent, albeit romanticized, take on frontier life in early America.
The year is 1757. The British and French are at war to determine who will gain control over eastern North American. The Mohicans allied with the British. And the Hurons, the Mohicans’ enemy, sided with the French. Enter Nathaniel/Hawkeye, the white adopted son of the Mohican Chingatchgook. Hawkeye tries to stay out of the conflict. But becomes embroiled in it after rescuing a British Colonel’s daughters from a Huron ambush. Hawkeye, and his brother, escort the women back to Fort William Henry, which is under siege by the French. When the fort falls, the Huron choose to ambush the retreating British. This chain of events causes Hawkeye and brother to become involved in the British/French conflict. Life changing event ensue.
In spite of the convoluted source material, the movie is elegant and engaging. The Last of the Mohicans is a beautiful looking film. The cinematography is almost nostalgic in its depiction of wide open, undeveloped land. Only the frequent ambushes, skirmishes, and battles punctuate the serene countryside.
Part of the charm of this movie is the attention to background detail. There are outfits boasting intricate beadwork, traditional tattoos, historically accurate uniforms, weapons, and canoes. Mann does an excellent job capturing and depicting the numerous cultures that existed in 1757 America. Though some of the music sounded a tad more Celtic than Native American. It is a hauntingly nuanced soundtrack that complements the action on screen. Soundtracks can make or break a film. In this case, I think the soundtrack elevated the narrative from “good” to “memorable”.
The center of the narrative is the identity of Hawkeye and his relationship with Cora Munro one of the women he rescues. Hawkeye struggles to explain his identity and life until close to the end. Though, one could argue that the never found a place to belong until the end. Anyways, Hawkeye is viscerally brought to life by the dominating presence of Daniel Day-Lewis. In one of his best performance, Day-Lewis is the right mix of fierce and graceful body language. I think body language is a lost art in modern Hollywood. But Day-Lewis does a phenomenal job portraying a frontiersman/Mohican warrior. Cora Munro, played by Madeleine Stowe, is his polished, genteel match. Independent and outspoken, Cora is a great foil to Hawkeye’s rougher demeanor. Overall, this is a solid movie that I highly recommend.
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