Genre: Drama and War Running Time: 1 hr. 52 min.
Release Date: September 25th, 1992 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Michael Mann Actors: Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig, Jodhi May, Steven Waddington, Wes Studi, Pete Postlethwaite, Colm Meaney
t is 1757, during the third year of the war between England and France for possession of the American Colonies – and the continent itself. Three men, the last of the vanishing Mohican tribe, are on the frontier west of the Hudson River. They are Chingachgook (Russell Means) and his two sons, Uncas (Eric Schweig) and the adopted white Nathaniel “Hawkeye” (Daniel Day-Lewis). As French and Indian armies move to attack the English settlements, the British officers arrange a militia of colonial troops – though they pompously believe it will be unnecessary, as the French don’t have the stomachs for war. Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington) and a small company is tasked with escorting Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice Munro (Jodhi May), the daughters of Colonel Edmund Munro (Maurice Roeves), from Albany to the British Fort William Henry. But their Huron Indian guide Magua (Wes Studi) leads them into an ambush, in which only the two girls and Duncan make it out alive, thanks to the convenient arrival of Chingachgook’s trio.
The Mohicans lead the survivors to Fort Henry, which is under siege when they arrive. With approximately three days before the French demolish the stronghold, their only hope is to get word to General Webb’s reinforcements at Fort Edward, twelve miles away. When the British commanders force aiding militia members to stay on the premises, despite signs of Indian war party fighters attacking their homes, Hawkeye helps several of them leave. Considered an act of sedition by the authorities, he’s imprisoned and scheduled to be hanged. Meanwhile, the French General Montcalm (Patrice Chereau) successfully negotiates a surrender by the exhausted British garrison, allowing them to leave back to Albany, under the condition that they vow never to fight in North America again. When they depart, however, Magua orchestrates an assault on the unprepared forces, intent on savagely murdering Munro for his past involvement in destroying Magua’s village.
Madeleine Stowe’s character asks plenty of questions to Hawkeye, allowing the audience a bit of education on the situations, other roles, allies and enemies, and reasons for specific militant maneuvers. The positioning of the queries and explanations are slightly contrived, but altogether necessary due to the numerous players and varying opponents of the French and Indian War. Her existence also serves as a romantic interest for Hawkeye and the catalyst for a vengeful rescue quest that brings about a grand, pulse-pounding finale – that ranks among the very best of all cinematic climaxes. The search and reunion is a touch rushed, but the poignancy is no less realized.
Large scale battle sequences; authentic recreations of costumes, makeup, props, and weaponry; and several exhilarating slow-motion acts of heroism are powerfully amplified by a score that simply couldn’t be any better. Sensationally thundering pieces by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman preside at all the right moments, breathing additional life into even the calmest of scenes. It’s an award-worthy historical epic, full of riveting action and a moving love story, based on James Fenimore Cooper’s renowned novel (and the 1936 screenplay by Philip Dunne). The story’s impact and significance might be obscured by Kevin Costner’s “Dances with Wolves” from two years prior, or the fact that Daniel Day-Lewis’ performance is similarly downplayed in comparison to his lauded body of method-acting work, but it’s still a momentous, highly entertaining picture.
– Mike Massie