Starring: Daniel Day-Lewis, Wes Studi, Madeleine Stowe, Russell Means, Eric Schweig
Director: Michael Mann
Mood: If your S.O. is demanding a romantic movie but you were set on a war flick and you really don’t want to watch some sappy garbage so you need something that will seem like a concession but it’s got plenty of wilderness action.
I somehow got this far in life without having seen The Last of the Mohicans.
I’ve also never seen The Shawshank Redemption, Saving Private Ryan, Schindler’s List… what the heck was I doing in the ‘90s? (Dyeing my hair weird colours, piercing myself, listening to punk and metal, and watching Beavis & Butthead).
I’ve also ONLY seen the final scenes from Braveheart and Titanic, because I always had to sit through them when I tuned in before the movie I actually wanted to watch started on Super Channel.
Anyway. I’ve never really thought much about Daniel Day-Lewis, although his limited filmography (just 30 productions in 50 years!) contains some seriously impressive work. But my boyfriend swore The Last of the Mohicans was a great movie, and so, after three weeks of me putting on literally any other movie and making lots of creative excuses, we watched it.
It is a great movie. Like, technically speaking, it’s extremely well done. I just have a MAJOR F*CKING BEEF with the fact that the title refers to one of the two Mohican characters yet the whole thing is about a white guy.
The Last of the Mohicans is based on James Fenimore Cooper’s 1862 book of the same name. Unlike typical Western movie fare, it takes place in the ‘New World’ colonies of 1757, during the French and Indian War.
- If, like me, you have NO IDEA what that was about, here’s my take: this was Great Britain’s colonies (British America) and France’s colonies (New France) duking it out over land that technically didn’t belong to either. Both sides had support from Native tribes. Up to that point, the East Coast had been largely French domain (see map) but settlers weren’t liking how they were treated. So they helped the British oust the French, only to be treated like shit by the British. And so on.
- It helps to tell yourself “think pirate times, not cowboy times”.
The opening scenes introduce you warmly to Hawkeye (Daniel-Day Lewis), his adoptive Mohican brother Uncas (Eric Schweig), and adoptive Mohican dad Chingachgook (Russell Means). They are beloved traders with many friends, and take no sides in the war.
You also meet Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), a British major tasked with escorting two young women to join their father at a military fort. Major Heyward proposes to Cora (Madeleine Stowe), and she’s like “I only think of you as a friend”, but he’s like “love can come later, only an idiot would pass up this great opportunity” and her face says she’s looking for fiery-loined passion.
Major Heyward and the women are accompanied by a troop of soldiers and a Mohawk named Magua (Wes Studi) who IS SECRETLY A HURON WHO HATES THESE PEOPLE. So they get ambushed, then saved by the brave trio of traders.
Cora instantly falls for the swarthy Hawkeye, while Uncas has his shy little heart set on Alice (Jodhi May). Nobody has a crush on Chingachgook, even though he’s the most badass of the bunch throughout the entire f*cking movie.
Well, it turns out the British were WAY too cocky about their chances, and their fort is being successfully attacked by the French. The rest of the movie is a lot of tense fighting at the fort, some sneaky sexy times, a daring escape, smouldering stares, and horrible deaths.
The Last of the Mohicans is filled with gorgeous scenic shots of quiet rivers, massive forests, and crashing waterfalls. The battle scenes are rich in detail, from the cannons to the foot soldiers being gunned down or hacked to pieces.
They took great care in creating realistic costumes. They even had authentic replica weapons crafted by weapons masters, including the gunstock war club used by Chingachgook. As far as period dramas go, I can’t argue with the quality of this movie.
But like I said, I can’t get behind the POV.
The title is THE LAST OF THE MOHICANS. Uncas is Mohican. Chingachgook is Mohican. They are the last of the Mohican people. Both of these men are fiercely strong, brave, and pure of heart. Yet neither gets many lines. They’re mere background to Hawkeye’s love story.
- Fun Fact: People often interchangeably use ‘Mohawk’ and ‘Mohican’, but they were two different and competing tribes.
Don’t get me wrong – Daniel Day-Lewis does a good job with his character. I mean, the role is this rugged-wilderness-man romantic lead that could easily be one of the Sacketts. He brings the right level of intensity to both the fighting and the passion.
But the story shouldn’t have been about him. And even if the BOOK was about him, they had the opportunity to adjust the script so that it was at least a little more about the actual Mohicans.
We all know Eric Schweig can bring it in a Western (see The Missing and Dead Man’s Walk). And Russell Means had this powerful presence that was like the best kind of aging action hero. I understand that their characters, Means’ in particular, were quieter than the chatty colonists. But this movie could have been mind-blowing if either of them was the lead. And if it wasn’t a romance.
And don’t even get me started on Wes Studi! Just kidding, this is my blog. Now I get to rave about Wes Studi.
This is a man who can be haunting and soulful (Chief Yellow Hawk in Hostiles), commanding (Buffalo Hump in Comanche Moon), or absolutely f*cking terrifying like the bloodthirsty Magua. What’s so captivating about Studi’s performance in The Last of the Mohicans is how naturally he can shift his expression from darkness to dead-eyed disinterest and back again.
Double-crossing the British troops and chopping them up? His face is at a mellow 5. Describing his hatred for Col. Munro and how he’s going to cut him open and eat his heart? His eyes are level 10. But watching his captive sex slave jump off a cliff, that’s barely worth a blink.
Even though it’s got no horseback chases, no cattle, and virtually no facial hair to be found – The Last of the Mohicans still feels pretty Western.
If you want to watch a sweeping period rom-dram (is that a thing?) that’s also a pre-Western Western, this is for you. The cinematography in the battle scenes alone is worth it, and you’re basically rooting for the Native Americans the whole time which is a welcome change of pace.