The Last of the Mohicans (1992) Directed by Michael Mann. With Daniel Day Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Wes Studi, Russell Means, Jodhi May, Steven Waddington.
Based on a novel by American author James Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans is a curious choice of material for director Michael Mann, who up to this point had been best known for gritty crime thrillers. It’s pleasing then to report that this stretching of the creative wings is a winning triumph that speaks volumes of it’s directors adaptability and ambition.
It’s 1757 in the American colonies and the third year of the war between England and France for the possession of the continent. Daniel Day Lewis stars as Nathaniel Poe, an independent reared as a Mohican who inadvertently finds himself and his clan drawn into a bitter conflict with a native warrior with a blood vendetta.
The first thing to say is that the film captures the period detail perfectly and quickly has you settled into it’s place in time. The costumes and surroundings are all testament to some excellent production design and help you comfortably lose yourself in the setting. Beyond that, the scenery and cinematography are simply stunning. Powerful waterfalls, wide lakes and soaring mountains all play a significant role in lending the film it’s striking authenticity. Part survival, part romance, part action adventure this is an epic that never outstays it’s welcome and if anything might have benefited from being an extra half hour longer. As it is, the film covers it’s ground as swiftly as Daniel Day Lewis’ Nathaniel bounds through the woods. Day Lewis is every inch the strong but brooding leading man here and gets chance to fully stretch his muscles in the physical acting stakes with some memorable and authentically brutal battle sequences.
Complimenting Day Lewis is the often underrated but exquisite Madeleine Stowe as Cora Munro, and the object of our hero’s affections. Stowe’s natural beauty is offset by an excellent performance that while might have played even better for a little more character development, shows enough to make you believe in the power of the her feelings toward Nathaniel.
A review would not be complete without mention of Wes Studi whose predatory performance as ‘Magua’ lives long in the memory afterwards. Studi is both frightening and intense and his determination to see out his vendetta causes a high degree of tension even when he’s not on screen.
So, with a sweeping score that matches the powerful imagery and performances to stir the soul, The Last Of The Mohicans is almost the perfect epic. Somewhere out there, I’d like to think there’s a Ridley Scott type directors cut waiting to be discovered. I say this in the most complimentary way as I feel the characters and story are so strong, and so well performed that a little more depth would have been welcome. That said, it’s very nearly perfect. 4.5/5