What To Watch: Under the Falls in ‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (1992)
A classic historical drama that is filled with adventure and romance.
The Last of the Mohicans is a 1992 adventure drama about three trappers who protect a British Colonel’s daughters in the midst of the French and Indian War.
When I know a film is based on real events, even if the story around it is fictional, I can’t help but get caught up in the possibilities. How accurate is the film’s portrayal? Is this what it was really like? I like to get sucked into the details of it all and try to imagine how it must have been. Such is the case for The Last of the Mohicans, an excellent, if overly-romanticized adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper‘s famous novel of the same name. It’s great fun. Let’s take a look.
THE STORY: Directed by Michael Mann and set in 1757 upstate New York during the French and Indian War, it follows Nathaniel “Hawkeye” Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis), a white man who was adopted as a child by Native American Mohicans. He, his father Chingachgook (Russell Means) and brother Uncas (Eric Schweig) come up a battalion of British soldiers marching through the woods, led by Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), who is escorting Colonel Edmund Munro’s (Maurice Roëves) – the commander of Fort William Henry – two daughters Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and Alice (Jodhi May) to him. They are being guided by a Huron warrior named Magua (Wes Studi) who leads them into an ambush where most of the soldiers are slaughtered, though Heyward and the women are rescued by Hawkeye.
Agreeing to take them to Fort Henry, an attraction builds between not only Cora and Hawkeye but Alice and Uncas. There’s no stopping nature. When they finally reach Munro, they find more trouble though soon after, and it’s another battle for survival and a test of courage and love as Magua has bitter plans for his rivals.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR: While the film is a bit gooey in places with its sentimentality and über interest in storybook romance, most of the film is genuinely grounded and feircely authentic. This is a great looking movie. Though it’s set in the Adirondacks of New York – a place I grew up in – the production was filmed in the Blue Ridge Mountains of North Carolina, a fairly close model of the same peaks. Mann, along with cinematographer Dante Spinotti capture some breathtaking imagery of the dense forests and rounded, rock-faced mountains, giving the film a great sense of place. Add to that Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman‘s electrifying score and you’ve got the makings for some real immersion.
After that, naturally all eyes fall on Day-Lewis, who famously committed himself to the role. He’s the whole show here of course, combining rough and ready good looks with terrific period presence, truly getting us on board quickly with the character. Hawkeye’s relationship with Cora is one of cinema’s more idealized romances but nonetheless pretty darned effective. It’s the heart of the story and even though everything that surrounds it is far more authentic, it’s hard not to get caught up in the emotions of these two. If you’ve got a heart, well, it’s gonna swell.
A GREAT MOMENT: So with that in mind, there’s really only one moment that earns this place, despite some truly amazing battle scenes and plenty of conflicts between well-defined characters. That’s the waterfall scene. In it, Hawkeye, his father and brother, Heyward, Cora, Alice and an injured soldier have escaped a pretty gruesome attack and fled in canoes where they’ve managed to outrun their pursuers over some treacherous rapids and such. They then find themselves hiding in a cave behind a rather large waterfall, hoping to keep safe, though Hawkeye knows otherwise.
Sure enough, they get trapped and all their gunpowder is soaked, unusable in a fight. Their only option is for Hawkeye, his father and brother to escape and leave the others behind in hopes of avoiding a fight that would kill them all. This way, he thinks the Hurons will simply capture the women and soldiers and take them away, allowing Hawkeye to plan a rescue. But first he must say goodbye, not knowing if she will be killed moments after he leaves. In a touching moment, he looks to Cora, with whom he now has fallen deeply in love, and tells her to stay alive, no matter what. It’s a heartbreaking gesture as he assures her that he will find her, no matter how long it take or how far. He will find her. That’s just good old-fashioned movie magic right there.
THE TALLY: The Last of the Mohicans is a really entertaining film elevated by its great look and feel for the times. While it becomes more fantastical as it reaches its sensational and dramatic end, there’s no pulling away from the impact as these characters finally come to blows amid the high peaks of the mountains they live in. If you’re looking for some sweeping historical drama along with great music and a pretty effective romance, this one’s hard to beat. It’s what to watch.