Friday, August 9, 2013

Day Two Hundred and Twenty-one - The Last of the Mohicans, "We will winter in Ken-Tuck-Ee!"

My sister loves Last of the Mohicans... and so do I, albeit for differing reasons.

Maybe I'm wrong, but I feel that, were I to ask her, she'd say that her primary delight in the film comes from the stirring romance between Madeleine Stowe's Cora and Daniel Day-Lewis' Hawkeye... the kind of romance that comes from several days of smoky stares across crowded rooms and not-so-crowded wilderness.

My own love for LotM, though, comes more from how lovingly crafted Colonial America was recreated. From the effete and arrogant British and French to the quaint and rustic Colonials to the Mohawk and Huron tribesmen. Tons of detail, dirt, and respect is embedded all throughout this film.

Set during the French and Indian War, Last of the Mohicans follows Hawkeye and his adopted father and brother (played by Russell Means and Eric Schweig, respectively) as they rescue a British officer and the two young ladies he was escorting from a Huron ambush. The three scouts take the "Yengeese" to their destination only to find that it is under siege from the French.

Eventually the fort surrenders, but not until after a steamy (but relatively chaste) love scene between Hawkeye and Cora, and the English retreat... only to be massacred by the Huron and leading to a canoe chase and the eventual capture of the remaining Brits: Cora, her sister Alice (Johdi May), and Major Hayward (Steven Waddington).

Cue dramatic rescue (including some significant deaths) and roll credits.

While I do think the romance is more than a little rushed and stress dependent, it's still a more sensual and effective courtship than most love stories in film. I do enjoy how Cora and Hawkeye's connection is so very often unspoken, underscored by those long, fiery looks between them. In that, I think my sister may be quite correct.

I think the true gem of the story, though, is the tragedy of Uncas.

He and his father are the last true Mohicans and very early on in the film it is lampshaded that he should have long since settled and continued the line of his people. It seems he takes that criticism to heart over the course of the events of the trip to Fort William Henry as he, too, begins to share longing looks... with Alice.

Uncas even goes so far as to charge after Magua (Wes Studi) to free Alice after she's taken as a slave by the judgement of the Huron Sachem. This, of course, leads to a cliffside confrontation between the two which leaves Uncas dead at the bottom of the mountain... and Alice taking the lover's leap when Magua tries to bring her back from the brink even though he has Uncas' blood quite literally on his hands.

Best freaking shot of the movie in that scene.

Moving on, I think a lot of people give Russell Means crap for his political and activist past, particularly his involvement with AIM and connection to Wounded Knee. Here in LotM, I think he did a fine job portraying Chingachgook.

I love the way the writing and pacing of the film shows him as a fine tracker but a man who is aging and definitely losing a few steps in comparison to his two sons who are in the prime of their lives and in peak physical condition. It also serves to contrast with his elder wisdom during the climax scene where Magua kills Uncas.

Even enraged, it's obvious that Chingachgook is the superior fighter as, what his son couldn't do in three separate rounds, he manages in one without taking a single wound. In fact, he deftly dodges Magua and cripples him in a single blow, but goes on to punish him with several more bone breaks before finishing the villain off.

And Wes Studi does a great job as the Huron villain Magua. Tormented by the deaths of his family, he embraces the treachery and butchery of his enemies and becomes that which he hated. I love his subtitled insults to Major Waddington before the ambush and his conversations with General Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) reveal much about the character. His final scene (with Alica, Uncas, and Chingachgook is probably the best I've even seen him... and there's nary a single word of dialogue. It's tremendous what he can do with a single look and a blood-soaked gesture.

Quick shoutout to Steve Waddington for his portrayal and prim and jealous Major Heyward. He hasn't been in much that I've scene, as I only remember him being in this and Sleepy Hollow, but I think he did a great job balancing the arrogance and honor of an officer in His Majesty's Army and his ultimate sacrifice is a nice bit of redemption during the climax.

A second quick shoutout to Peter Postlethwaite who has a small role as a British captain at Fort William Henry under Cora's father.

Finally, I want to mention the soundtrack by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman. A lot of the character and dramatic tension in the film is highlighted by the score, particularly to repeated fiddle reels and rising crescendos at key moments. Whenever I get chills at movies, it's usually due to the music cues and this is a prime example... so much so that it's probably one of the few orchestra soundtracks that I could listen to over and over again entirely separate from the movie.

Last of the Mohicans, in my opinion, was one of the best films of the 90's and should be in everyone's queue. Sure, the history isn't quite right and its romance is a bit melodramatic, but it's very balanced and Native positive and an interesting look at both frontier life and the early wars in the Americas. It and The Mission are examples of this that I hold in high regard.

Until tomorrow, Potatoes~

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