Daniel Day-Lewis in The Last of the Mohicans (1992)



(director/writer: Michael Mann; screenwriters: Christopher Crowe/based on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper/Philip Dunne; cinematographer: Dante Spinotti; editors: Dov Hoenig/Arthur Schmidt; music: Randy Edelman/Trevor Jones; cast: Daniel Day-Lewis (Hawkeye, Nathaniel Poe), Madeleine Stowe (Cora Munro), Russell Means (Chingachgook), Eric Schweig (Uncas), Jodhi May (Alice Munro), Steven Waddington (Maj. Duncan Heyward), Wes Studi (Magua), Maurice Roëves (Col. Edmund Munro), Patrice Chéreau (Gen Montcalm), Edward Blatchford (Jack Winthrop)  , Mac Andrews (General Webb), Mike Phillips (Sachem); Runtime: 114; MPAA Rating: R; producers: Hunt Lowry/Michael Mann; 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment; 1992)
nicely blends together action, romance and history.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It’s based on James Fenimore Cooper’s 1826 novel, The Last of the Mohicans, and was filmed before as a silent in 1911 and 1920 and again as a talkie in 1936 starring Randolph Scott. Under the direction of Michael Mann (“Ali”/”Heat”/”Miami Vice”) it nicely blends together action, romance and history. Cowriters Mann and Christopher Crowe create an intelligent love story, keep the war history accurate (at least according to Cooper), allow the adventure story to blossom under its own rhythm, and they effectively relate the importance of keeping one’s word and being honorable as a trait not reserved necessarily for either Indian or white man but essential for keeping the peace (the film believes the ideals of fair play and loyalty were lost during this bloody war, and led later to the American Revolution and the Indian wars with the whites). The 1936 screenplay of Philip Dunne is the film’s template. It has superior values for a mainstream mall pic, and cinematographer Dante Spinotti keeps the spectacle colorfully shot. The gory upstate NY battle scenes are exciting, but not for the squeamish (filmed in Western North Carolina and the Appalachian mountains of Alabama).

We encounter along the Albany frontier in 1757, after three years of war between the French and English, a new threat in the upstate NY area as the Hurons ally with the French and the colonial settlers, being British subjects, are compelled to fight for the British at Fort William Henry, in the Adirondacks, where the French and their Indian allies plan to attack. Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) is the buckskin trapper with the long flowing hippie cut, who is at home in nature. The brave young man is a white man adopted and raised by his wise Mohican father Chingachgook (Russell Means, Indian rights activist) after his white settler parents were killed in an Indian raid. His younger Indian brother is Uncas (Eric Schweig, a Canadian actor of Inuit descent). The Mohicans live in peace with the white settlers, and get along with all the tribes but for the Huron.

Newly arrived dutiful arrogant Brit officer Maj. Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington) is entrusted to take Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and her younger sister Alice (Jodhi May), the daughters of the Fort William Henry commander Colonel Munro (Maurice Roëves), from Albany to the nearby fort with Mohawk Indian guide Magua (Wes Studi) leading the way. The Mohawks are allied with the British. But Magua doesn’t let on that he’s Huron, working for the French General Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau), and leads the military escorts into an ambush. Only the major and the girls are saved from being chopped up by the Indian hatchets, tomahawks and hunting knives in the ensuing massacre, as Hawkeye, Uncas and Chingachgook rescue them and then escort them to the fort by foot.

When Cora turns down Duncan’s marriage proposal, Hawkeye steps in and it’s love at first sight for both. There are a few twists and turns, before the English are forced to surrender to the superior forces of Montcalm. The gentleman French soldier promises generous terms for the English: they won’t be jailed or harmed, and can rejoin General Webb at his nearby fort before returning to England. But Magua, who hates the English for killing his family and forcing him to be adopted by the Mohawks, made no promises and attacks in an ambush and brutally crushes the British as they march in the open fields of the woods. Again, with the help of Hawkeye, Uncas and Chingachgook, the major and the girls are the only ones rescued.

The gruesome climax leads to Magua throwing Uncas off a mountain, Chingachgook getting his revenge on Magua and crying out that he’s The Last of the Mohicans. Hawkeye wins the white girl, and is free to join the white culture. The result is a lively old-fashioned Hollywood adventure story with great modern-day photography as a supplement, and with a dashing Day-Lewis appealing as a rugged frontier hero and Stowe tramping through the woods in a long evening dress making a spicy civilized soul mate for her wild-eyed nature boy.