Legends of the Fall
Directed by Edward Zwick. Starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas, Karina Lombard, Gordon Tootoosis. (1994, R, 133 min.)
REVIEWED By Marjorie Baumgarten, Fri., Jan. 13, 1995
No question about it: Brad Pitt is gorgeous. Legends of the Fall exhibits that in spades. But, somehow, it doesn't seem appropriate that Pitt's beauty should be the film's lingering sentiment. This is, after all, the film adaptation of Jim Harrison's much-beloved novella of the same title, a story about an iconoclastic family of men on the Montana frontier around the turn of the century. The story is ensconced in the romance of the West caught between the inheritance of the past and the intrusion of the future. The family consists of three brothers: Alfred, the oldest and most dutiful; Samuel, the youngest and most idealistic; and Tristan, the middle brother, wild and untamable and described by Harrison as “the rock they all broke themselves against.” There is also the father, Colonel Ludlow, a patriarch who built the Montana ranch and was a U.S. cavalry officer before he quit in disgust over the government's treatment of the Indian population, and the Colonel's old scout One Stab, who teaches Tristan the ways of nature and how to survive in it. One Stab is also the narrator of the story, although his function in the film remains rather vague. Also part of the novella is the lovely Susannah, who comes between two of the brothers. Well, now comes the movie, and Susannah (Ormond) manages to have involvements with all three. And that's some of the problem with the movie. It's far more involved in the romances of men than in the romance of the West. What needs to be epic often seems petty and small. Perhaps it was in compensation for this narrative inadequacy that the musical score grew to be sweepingly grand and intrusively ever-present. Much the same could be said for the camerawork, which relies heavily on shots of picture-perfect vistas and not enough on human beings and their place in this world. When we do see the characters, we primarily see their beauty. As Susannah, British actress Julia Ormond combines a dewy countenance with a strong-willed determination; she seems part Amy Irving and part Helena Bonham Carter. Aidan Quinn as Alfred also sports handsome good looks, but there is something too contemporary about his demeanor and speaking voice to believe him in this historical role. So, too, with Pitt as Tristan, with his long, flowing hair, which is cover-boy lovely but quite unlike the lengths worn by any man in that setting, “civilized” or not. As the Colonel, however, Hopkins is magnificent. Director Zwick of Glory and thirtysomething fame somehow “falls on the legend” this time around.