Last night I finally saw the entirety of Michael Mann's 1992 film version of The Last of the Mohicans; it's a film I'd seen in bits and chunks, maybe half an hour's worth, before that. I've been familiar with its very striking score* and I knew a fair number of the visuals, but I was happy to finally get the full experience of the film and the story. I'll watch it again; I can have it for a week or so more, from the library. For one thing I want to spot where Star Trek vet Colm Meaney is in it.
I knew going in that the story is bosom-having melodrama -- and that the film stylishly depicts an era where clothing seemed perfect for bosom-heaving, and since I've had a thing for Madeline Stowe since the 1980s I am definitely not saying that as a complaint -- to the point that it surprised me today to learn that the story is based on real maneuvers in Upstate New York during the French and Indian War. But it's presented through James Fenimore Cooper's layer of melodrama, then another layer of melodrama from the 1936 film version starring Randolph Scott (Randolph Scott? RANDOLPH SCOOOOOOOOTT!) that Mann consciously used as inspiration for his film. So the film's slightly -- slightly -- more real than I thought it would be.
Not that that matters. We're there to watch Daniel Day-Lewis run, shoot, shout, brood, and hold Stowe in his well-muscled arms, not to get distracted by the thought that all of the attacks weren't really because of people (at least Hawkeye and Uncas) rescuing those they love, or (in the case of Magua) taking revenge on those who'd done Terrible Things to them. And I got reminded of a couple of stories that tried to do similar things, but, to my mind, didn't work. My mind first went to 2000's Roland Emmerich effort The Patriot, set 20 years later in a different part of the American colonies. Because I only liked parts of the film**, I got more hung up on how most of the Revolutionary War battles depicted in The Patriot were almost certainly not historically accurate, but mainly shot to Be Cool and to allow a big one-on-one climactic showdown between Mel Gibson and Jason Isaacs. (Seriously. That bothered me. But then, so did much of the film.)
I also thought of Gangs of New York (2002), made by Martin Scorcese, who's almost certainly a better director than Michael Mann is (and who is by far a better director than Emmerich is), but also to me plagued by not, quite, connecting. I so wanted it to work for me, but it didn't. (It worked like gangbusters for Dad: he recently watched Gangs for the first time because he'd heard such good things about Day-Lewis in Lincoln.) That film's melodrama distracted me; Mohicans's melodrama engaged me. I hope that's not just because Madeline Stowe is far more my "type" than Cameron Diaz...
* The film had two main composers (plus a little bit by Daniel Lanois) because Mann wanted to work so closely with the film's first composer, Trevor Jones, that it slowed down Jones way off of his usual composing pace; they realized he wouldn't have time to write the entire score, so the production hired Randy Edelman to fill in musical bits and pieces and let Jones finish the big signature cues. Jones and Edelman never actually worked together. Yes, I find out about and remember this stuff.
** From my review: "There are pieces of a great movie here...but the film feels synthetic – a bugaboo director Roland Emmerich still hasn’t overcome."