Published on August 17th, 2013 | by Allan Brown1
The Last of the Mohicans Review
Movie Review: The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Running Time: 107 minutes
Director: Michael Mann
Writers: James Fenimore Cooper (novel), John L. Balderston (adaptation)
Cast: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Wes Studi
Plot: At the height of the French and Indian war, Hawkeye is asked to lead two British sisters, Cora and Alice through dangerous territory to their father’s fort.
Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans marks the 7th film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s much celebrated 1826 literary classic. Mann who had initially approached the project no less than 12 times was determined to retell the story that captivated him as a young boy. This time Mann would adapt a screenplay with Christopher Crowe from not only James Fenimore Cooper’s source novel but also the screenplay by Philip Dune, used in George B Seitz 1936 film of the same name.
The story is a sweeping romance set against the backdrop of the French and Indian war (Seven Years War), where Britain and France battled for the control of North America from 1756 to 1763. During this time of conflict, France who was greatly outnumbered relied heavily on their Native American Allies to help in the battle, especially in the north-eastern territories of America.
Mann delivers the film with a traditional storytelling narrative without tricks or gimmicks and despite feeling almost fairytale-esque, the film is truly authentic in its conviction and depiction of the era. Everything from its lush and wild landscapes to the attention to detail in the dress wear and weapons used and worn by the natives are all captured beautifully through cinematographer Dante Spinott’s lens. Everything from the languages and dialects to the Fort William set (Which was built in full, to exact specifications) helps evoke a rich sense of realism, terror and beauty in these times of conflict in America and shows the utter dedication of the filmmakers to get it absolutely right.
The casting is also somewhat of a marvel, Daniel Day Lewis once again commands the screen with a softer yet wise intensity in his role as Hawkeye (Nathaniel Poe) while Madeleine Stowe brings a elegance and strength in her portrayal of Cora. However, it is the Native American members of the cast that truly stand out, and none more so than Russell Means. Means, a well known Native American activist who famously protested and rallied in the early 70s also publically criticised Kevin Costner’s ‘Dances with Wolves’ for its complacent and absurd depiction of the Native American Struggle. Mean’s acceptance of the role of Chingachgook is credit to Mann’s accurate depiction of the Native plight and Means along with Wes Studi’s and with the rest of the native cast are truly captivating to watch.
However with all the films efforts in historical accuracy and its mystifying beauty, it can be cited as being over sentimental with much of the dialogue, (especially with regards to the romance) feeling clunky and un-natural, with conversations lacking fluidity and often sounding stagnant due to an awkward script. This more often than not results in the actors sounding like they are performing a run through of the script, as opposed to evoking any expression in the words they are saying. The script and ultimately the film would have benefited greatly if the dialogue had been tightened up. It is one of the films major weaknesses in comparison to the delights it has to offer elsewhere.
Another area of the film that feels weak, at least for me, is in the sound editing. Despite the film winning an Oscar for this department, I can’t help but feel it is somewhat lacking. Throughout the many battle sequences specifically to the many props in use, Tomahawk and sword blows are rarely heard when making contact thus failing to make them feel weighted or even real.
Where the film truly raises the bar is in its soundtrack by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. It is one of finest examples of a soundtrack or score perfectly complementing the visuals on screen. From Randy Edelman and Clanad’s ‘I will find you’ to the main theme which is taken from the track ‘The Gael’ by Scottish singer songwriter Dougie Maclean are spellbinding works of music and perhaps one of the greatest original motion picture soundtracks of today.
Summary: Despite the few flaws the film brandishes, it remains a beautifully rich and detailed historical drama that boasts stunning performances, an exquisite soundtrack and a landscape that quite simply mesmerising.