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The Last of the Mohicans (1992)
A visually thrilling movie whose attempts at Romanticism fall short at times
The Last of the Mohicans is a book written by James Fenimore Cooper in the 1800's. The novel upon which this film was based was part of the Romantic era, and so director Michael Mann evidently tried to bring that spirit and character of the time on screen. However, the film The Last of the Mohicans is a somewhat loose translation of the book, and sometimes the so-called "Romantic" touches are no more than dramatic appeals to modern audiences.
There are many things that may have worked in the romantic era, but in this day and age can seem essentially "cheesy," especially on film. There is one scene in which Hawkeye, Daniel Day-Lewis' main character, stares at his romantic interest, Cora, provoking the question: "What are you looking at, sir?" to which he responds, "I'm looking at you, miss." What kind of response is that? This type of dialogue suggests a liberal departure from history, however Mann seems to try to ground the film in history and a trueness to that period. There lies the contradiction, and from it the feeling of cheesiness. Further, Mann also employs wide, sweeping shots of the surrounding nature in which much of the film is set. While true to the Romantic ideal of reverence for nature, after a while one does start to think, "All right, the setting has been established, how about a little more intimacy with the actual characters?" Although, it must be admitted: backgrounds of waterfalls and palates of beautiful, green forests give the film a boost and even realism.
It would be difficult to be true to romantic characteristics while trying to appeal to modern audiences. There can't be a ten-minute monologue in which Hawkeye explains to a companion exactly how he is tracking the British soldiers. Modern audiences just wouldn't care. Thankfully, Mann has the sense not to do anything of the sort. He delicately balances Romantic idealism and Hollywood blockbuster standard. The screen is blasted with gunshots, shooting arrows, flying cannons, and explosions galore, and while some of the battles may not have been so dramatic-and gory-it certainly does make the heart race in a good way.
Now, how do the actors themselves stand in all this? Day-Lewis does a fine job portraying that resourceful, culturally-mixed, almost unapproachable, and All-American hero. He knows when to poke at the humor, as well as he knows how to stir the heartstringsor play out the drama in a fight sequence. What can one say? This is the kind of role made for Day-Lewis. Madeleine Stowe strongly plays his woman, Cora Munro. She plays the kind of woman who can take charge and, most importantly, grab the interest of the audience. Bringing out the strength of women in the time period, she is a fine supporting actress to the hero Hawkeye. Their romance may be a little corny, but it provides a nice side story for the film. Besides, what's a film based on a Romantic novel without a little romance?
Editing is right-on, clearly bringing out the intended pace of the essentially "war film." We don't have too many "conversation scenes" before we are thrown into a battle again, which keeps the blood pumping but also allows some story and depth to be woven into the product. Mann was clearly an experienced director who knew what he wanted and how to get there.
All in all, should you watch this movie? Well, what are you looking for? Just a couple of hours to zone out to mindless violent battles? You may be a little bored at times. A timeless romance about an American-Indian and half-Scottish women who meet in the battlefield? You might be a little disappointed, though intrigued at parts. How about a film about a war that tries to be historically accurate but also can entertain with some artistry and modernity? Sit back and enjoy.