(1992) Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Hodhi May, Steven Waddington, Wes Studi, Peter Postlethwaite, Colm Meaney, Maurice Roeves, Patrice Chereau
James Fenimore Cooper’s classic tale, and hero, Hawkeye (A.K.A. Pathfinder and Deerslayer), have been brought to the screen (in films and on television) in abundance. Even so, Michael Mann’s grand undertaking has classic written all over it.
The focal point is Hawkeye’s mission to safely escort Colonel Munro’s two daughters to another destined blockade. Along the way, treachery and violence await, to say nothing of the very real tender romance.
Daniel Day-Lewis, who had won an Oscar® for My Left Foot three years prior, should have received laurels for this work as well. As Hawkeye, he faithfully exhibits courage, devotion, ruggedness, and even vengeance.
Madeleine Stowe is unassuming and convincing as Colonel Munro’s beleaguered daughter, and Russell Means (a full-blooded Native-American) is authentic as Hawkeve’s friend, Chingachgook.
The American Indian was idealized through Cooper, and this piece of cinema exemplifies both the highest virtue, and the lowest form of ferocity — on the part of Magua, unforgettably portrayed by Wes Studi.
The scenery, shot in the Carolinas representing early upstate New York, is breathtaking. The dramatic music composed by Randy Edelman is filled with a multitude of human emotions and moods.
The memorable battle scenes are not for the squeamish, with whackings, slashings, and scalpings galore. Director Mann does a masterful job of balancing the gratuitous violence on the fulcrum of realism that gives viewers the feeling they’re watching a documentary. When a tomahawk, for example, meets its intended victim, the sound sends shivers throughout one’s nervous system (No wonder this picture won an Academy Award® for Best Sound!).
Protracting humanity in all its bursts of colors, The Last of the Mohicans is surely one of the best depictions of early Colonial America, and one of the greatest films of the 1990s.