And now for a new feature on the blog which I’ll call my Throwback Thursday reviews where I revisit an older film title or perhaps watch it for the first time and offer my thoughts. Being that I gave this new category the fancy title I did, I’ll do my best to post such reviews on that alliterated day following Wednesday and before Friday.
We begin with Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, which I hadn’t watched since it came out 22 years ago. Since then, Mann has gone onto to direct such great films as Heat and The Insider, as well as disappointments (in my view) like Ali and Public Enemies. And of course lead actor Daniel Day-Lewis has become one of the greatest actors of his (or all) time and won two Oscars in recent years.
This was actually Day-Lewis’s follow-up feature since winning his first Best Actor Academy Award for 1989’s My Left Foot. It’s based on the James Fenimore Cooper novel and the original 1936 picture of the same name. It is set in 1757 during the French and Indian War with Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, a Caucasian raised by the Mohican Tribe. They are drawn into the British/French conflict when their friends are murdered. Circumstances dictate Nathaniel and his tribal family members escort British Major Heyward (Steven Waddington) and the two daughters (Madeline Stowe, Jodhi May) of a colonel to a fort.
Their journey becomes treacherous when the British’s Huron Tribe guide Magua (Wes Studi) betrays them. Turns out he’s working for the French – sort of. Along the way, Nathaniel and the daughter Cora, played by Stowe, fall in love and that doesn’t sit well with Major Heyward, who plans to marry her.
I must admit that I remembered very little about The Last of the Mohicans before my re-watching of it other than generally liking it over two decades ago. And, today, that statement still holds true. There is much to truly admire. First off, the picture is stunningly gorgeous from its landscapes to terrific art direction and cinematography and set design. The battle sequences are well-choreographed and often thrilling. Day-Lewis, unsurprisingly, makes for a rock solid leading man.
His performance is matched only by Studi’s, whose Magua is a fascinating character. Even though he may be the villain, we can at least understand his perspective on things and it elevates him to more than just your typical bad guy. In fact, if screenwriters Mann and Christopher Crowe had gone even further in exploring Magua’s story, Mohicans would have perhaps been better off for it. They could’ve easily filled that screen time and jettisoned the pic’s main flaw: a boring and uninspiring love story between Hawkeye and Cora.
The fault lies nowhere with either Day-Lewis or Stowe, who’s perfectly adequate in the part. It’s just that their romantic subplot is never interesting and their dialogue together is clichéd. I never fully understood why they fell for one another so quickly and passionately other than movie rules dictate that it be so.
Having said that, there’s more than enough good in Mohicans to outweigh the not so good. And if you haven’t seen it, it’s definitely worth a look.
*** (out of four)
And that’s my inaugural Throwback Thursday movie review, folks! Look for the next one Saturday… or, wait… how does this work again??