The Last of the Mohicans
1992, R, 117 min. Directed by Michael Mann. Starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Jodhi May, Russell Means, Wes Studi, Eric Schweig.
REVIEWED By Steve Davis, Fri., Oct. 2, 1992
The breakneck pace of The Last of the Mohicans affords you little time to realize it's just a simple and straightforward adventure yarn – an Indiana Jones in Buckskins but what an old-fashioned pleasure it is. Contrary to what you might expect, this fourth film version of James Fenimore Cooper's novel, once mandatory reading in grade school, is no revisionist apologia for American history, like the politically correct Dances With Wolves. In fact, The Last of the Mohicans is as “American" (read: white and Anglo-Saxon) as can be in depicting the British, French, and most Native Americans (it's set in 1757 during the French and Indian War) as untrustworthy and brutal. Furthermore, its hero – the renamed Nathaniel Poe aka Natty Bumppo aka Hawkeye, the white scout raised by the last of the Mohican tribe – personifies the principled strength and romantic allure of the frontiersman, impervious to the materialism and imperialism which motivate the battle for the American colonies. Of course, history has ultimately proven Cooper wrong: today's Natty Bumppo would be considered a freak by contemporary standards. Mann seems a peculiar choice for directing this film, given his slick, dreamy ouevre (TV's Miami Vice and the films Manhunter, Band of the Hand, and Thief). Here, he forsakes pastels for earth tones, finding a visual grandeur in the story's New York landscapes that doesn't overpower the narrative. Day-Lewis makes a credible transition from versatile, respected Oscar-winning actor to hunk here in the role of Poe/Bumppo. (The arresting image of the lithe, graceful Day-Lewis stealthily running through the forest is the film's recurring motif.) His occasionally flippant remarks are the film's only tie to any modern sensibility; otherwise, it seems like a movie from another time. He and Stowe, who plays the feisty daughter of a British general entranced by this frontier hero, make for a sexy couple who come from different worlds but share a common soul. A word of warning: The Last of the Mohicans rarely flinches in depicting the eye-for-an-eye savagery of war. Although not explicit in the way you might expect, it nevertheless requires you to screw your courage to the sticking place. Perhaps that's a tribute to its ability to take you along its journey without much effort – real enough to elicit a visceral reaction, romantic enough to remind you it's only a movie.