The Last of the Mohicans

(Michael Mann, USA, 1992)


As a firm fan of writer-director Michael Mann – whose original Hannibal Lecter thriller Manhunter (1986) is vastly superior to The Silence of the Lambs (1991) and its sequels – I eagerly awaited his cherished project The Last of the Mohicans. Yet I seem to be in a minority among Mann devotees in finding this epic remarkable in parts, but somewhat disappointing as a whole.

Mann has bent over backwards to ensure that Fenimore Cooper's classic novel can be experienced as a tale for our times – historically precise, but with a tone and attitude that secures it a contemporary relevance. It is certainly not a soft, sanctimonious tract in the manner of Dances with Wolves (1990).

Following the tortuous trail of Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) through the devastations and betrayals of the Anglo-French war of 1757, the film paints a vivid, informative portrait of the various social tribes that clash or co-operate to form the melting pot of American culture.

The film has some extraordinary scenes. Mann has a special way with physical action, so moments of running, hunting and hand-to-hand killing take on a hushed, ritualistic aura. And there is an indelible screen spark between Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe as the daughter of a British officer – the film's romanticism is splendidly intense.

Unfortunately, the film falls down exactly where many historical epics do: in the leaden, expository scenes where actors stand stock still outlining the plot; and in the large-scale battles that present a dull, barely comprehensible succession of muskets firing, bodies collapsing and cannons exploding.

MORE Mann: Ali, Collateral, The Insider, Heat

© Adrian Martin December 1993

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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