The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The Last of the Mohicans

Over the years, director Michael Mann has become known and highly respected for his ability to craft a crime story like nobody's business.  Movies like Heat, Miami Vice, Collateral, Thief, Public Enemies, all dealt with a criminal underworld, and Mann churns out movies like this that are always entertaining, stylish and highly professional with a polished look. But sprinkled in with these crime dramas are some equally entertaining flicks, including maybe his best work in a completely different genre, 1992's The Last of the Mohicans.

Completely comfortable in the world of modern city shootouts and back alley deals, Mann instead works here with a story based loosely -- very loosely -- on the classic novel by James Fenimore Cooper. It is a period piece heavy on historical accuracy of a story based in 1757 in the middle of the French and Indian War. Everything feels dead-on accurate from the clothes and apparel to the weapons and fighting styles of all the opposing sides.  That's just the basics though, Mann builds off this incredibly strong base and creates a nearly perfect movie.  A blend of romance and action, there's something for every movie fan.

It's 1757 and three frontiersman, Mohican warrior Chingachgook (Russell Means), his warrior son Uncas (Eric Schweig) and his adopted white son and noted rifleman Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis), survive on their own, completely ignoring the war raging around them in New York and the neighboring colonies. On the trail one day the trio saves the remnants of a British patrol from a Huron war party.  Riding with the patrol are Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice Munro (Jodhi May), the daughters of Colonel Munro, the commander of the nearest British fort. Hawkeye and Co. agree to accompany them to the fort along with a British major (Steven Waddington) who wants to marry Cora. But while the British and French tear each other apart, there may be a bigger threat, a Huron warrior, Magua (Wes Studi), who seeks revenge on Colonel Munro and his family.

It's rare you watch a movie that puts everything together so well in a way that should please a large majority of moviegoers.  Looking for romance? You've got it as Hawkeye and Cora fall hard for each other, not to mention Uncas and Alice having some sparks.  But instead of just being a throwaway portion of the plot, the romance is actually interesting, and you get a feeling that it is all genuine.  Thrown together where at any moment either one could be killed, Hawkeye and Cora look and feel like they're truly in love.  As for the action, that's a dumb question if you've seen any Mann movie. If you haven't, the action on a small and large scale works.  Epic battles with hundreds of extras are countered with intimate one-on-one fights between two warriors. Graphic without being gory, the action presents an accurate look at what 18th Century combat must have been like.

How do I describe Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye without exaggerating? His Hawkeye may be the coolest, most badass character...EVER. Day-Lewis doesn't scream out 'ACTION STAR' when you see him, but he delves into this character, an expert frontiersman and dead shot with a rifle.  Then piss him off by messing with his true love, and we've got a problem.  His romance with Stowe is dripping with chemistry, but he's able to put it aside when some killing is required.  Add in this great dynamic he has with Means and Schweig as his adopted family, and you've got a great character.  The funny thing is that none of these three have a ton of lines, but they establish early on this kinship, this bond they have.  Hawkeye's cool on his own, but add two more equally badass warriors, and we've got quite a trio.

When reviewing movies, I try to mention musical scores when one really sticks with me, but it's usually in a sentence or two.  Not so here as Randy Edelman and Trevor Jones turn in what's possibly one of the best all-time musical scores for a movie.  It's a score that is hard to peg on just one level because it works on a ton of levels.  Listen to the main theme HERE.  Mann filmed the whole movie in the Blue Ridge Mountains in North Carolina, and paired with this phenomenal score, you get a feel of what an epic movie truly is.  The visual and the sounds fit together like puzzle pieces.  It's just one of many things that sets apart an average period piece from a much better, and in this case, classic movie.

Everything builds and builds here to maybe the best final 10 minutes of a movie to hit theaters in a long time.  With obvious SPOILERS, watch it HERE. For almost 10 minutes without more than a word or two spoken, Edelman and Jones' score plays as the final confrontation takes place on a cliff face overlooking an idyllic green valley.  There are moments that just thinking of them as I write this gives you that feeling like you've been punched in the stomach.  For as stylistically beautiful and emotionally moving as the ending is, it's a real downer in terms of story.  It has to end this way though.  A perfect end to a perfect movie.  I could write more, but the review's getting a little long already.  Just know this, give this one a chance and you surely won't be disappointed.

The Last of the Mohicans <---trailer (1992): ****/**** 

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