Last of the Mohicans (1992)
Genre: gritty historical/war/romance
I’ll be the first to admit that I love this movie because of the plethora of good looking men. You know I’m shallow, I’ve admitted it more times than I can remember. Go ahead and say it with me, “Jayne is shallow and likes to ogle handsome men.” There, that’s over. But Jayne also likes to be entertained and this movie can do that too.
Loosely – very, very loosely – based on James Fenimore Cooper’s second novel in the Leatherstocking books, “Last of the Mohicans” is set in 1757 during the French and Indian Wars which you can look up on your own if you really want to know what was actually happening and at stake. For our purposes, we’re concerned about the frontier of New York and specifically the battle at Fort William Henry.
Chingachgook (Russell Means), his son Uncas (Eric Schweig), and Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), his adopted “white” son track a Huron war party to the site of an ambush where they save the lives of Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) and her sister Alice (Jodhi May) as well as Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington). Alas, they are too late to save any of the company of British soldiers. The women are traveling to meet their father, Colonel Edmund Munro (Maurice RoÃ«ves), the commander of the British garrison at the fort. Magua (Wes Studi), an Indian scout, was supposed to lead them there but is in reality a Huron with a blood feud against Munro. When the attack is foiled, he escapes into the forest.
When the party finally arrives at the fort, it’s to discover it under siege by the French and doomed to fall within days. Despite efforts to send word to a neighboring fort, the English are forced to surrender and vacate the fort. Shortly after, Hurons attack the British, their Indian allies and the colonists who were at the fort. A small band, including most of our main cast, escape but the women and Major Heyward are taken captive by Magua and are lead to the Huron village. Will Hawkeye, Chingachgook and Uncas be able to arrive in time and save the English captives from Magua’s revenge?
Reading over the plot I just typed, it strikes me how many people die in this film. It also sort of ends on a downer note. There’s also a huge amount of violence including shootings, stabbings, scalpings, burning at the stake and a spectacular leap off a waterfall. But I still love it. Hmmm, must think about what that says about me. I don’t, however, look for a great deal of historical accuracy as even Fenimore Cooper embroidered the facts a little to tell a good tale.
When it was released, a lot was made of how authentic the training for the principles and cast was, how Day-Lewis lived with his long rifle for months and the military men went to a sort of “English Army” boot camp. I can’t say for sure if it’s authentic yet who really can? But it sure looks nice. The Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina fill in beautifully for the 18th century New York frontier. The music is stirring, the cinematography is excellent and gosh, those men are easy on the eyes. Just had to get that in again.
The film has that epic feel, that larger than life quality that grabs me from the beginning and doesn’t let go. Yes, I know the British, who all look spiffy in their red coats, come off almost as bad as the French but Communism had just been tossed on the trash heap and we needed new villains for American made movies. And in this one director Mann shows the growing disconnect between Mother England and her Colonies which would eventually lead to the split a generation further. And while I wish that Alice had been less of a wimpy, frail flower always needing Cora to protect her, she does redeem herself by choosing her final fate. I like that we’re told why Magua is out for revenge instead of him just being some evil killer for no reason. Plus whoever did the makeup and costumes for the Indian tribes rocks. The battle scenes are excellent but be cautious if you’re squeamish. Oh, and of course there’s the growing love story between Cora and Hawkeye to spice things up.
Cora Munro: What are you looking at, sir?
Hawkeye: I’m looking at you, miss.
The first time I saw “LOTM” was with some friends during its initial theatrical release and I still remember feeling like I wanted to turn right around and see the next showing. We all came out of the theater slightly stunned – but in a good way. I was gobsmacked and that feeling has never quite gone away even 18 years later. I know it’s not perfect, I know people probably have legitimate gripes about it, I know there’s a lot of violence, I know it’s more romance than history, more Hollywood than reality but it’s still one of my favorite films and a delicious guilty pleasure. And come on, you know you want the lacrosse scene to be longer too.