Legends of the Fall is one of those films that I'd seen the poster for a thousand times and thought, hmm that looks interesting, I must get around to watching that one of these days. Well 11 years after saying that for the first time, I finally got to watch it via this Deluxe Edition DVD. It certainly has good credentials with a fine cast, led by Anthony Hopkins and Brad Pitt and cinematography of the highest order (and recognised with an Oscar in 1994).
The story concerns a retired Army Colonel (Anthony Hopkins) who now owns a farm in deepest Montana during the early 1900's. He has three sons, each of whom are completely different characters yet are joined by an immense emotional bond. The youngest brother Samuel (Henry Thomas) returns home to introduce his new fiancée to the family - the beautiful Susannah (Julia Ormond). His two brothers are both instantly smitten - Alfred, the eldest and most respectable brother (Aidan Quinn) feels love at first sight, but respects his brother enough to know that Susannah is not to be his. Tristan (Brad Pitt) on the other hand is the wild one of the family. Having formed a close mentoring relationship with his father's Indian farm hand “One Stab”, Tristan is a free spirit, at one with nature and very impulsive - he too falls for Susannah and she for him, setting up the first of the long running love triangles that permeate this film.
Samuel's death during World War I drives a wedge between the formerly close knit family - Tristan blames himself for not saving his little brother and Aidan takes the opportunity to give Susannah the life he feels she deserves. Unfortunately for Aidan, Susannah cannot forget her feelings for Tristan despite the fact that she knows she can never live a “normal” life with him. Tristan is gifted and tormented in equal measures - “some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and live by what they hear. Such people become crazy. Or they become legends.”. The discovery of which way Tristan will go is part of the pleasure of watching this movie and letting the story unfold in front of you is an experience I will leave for you to discover yourselves.
The cinematography of this movie really does deserve a mention - one can see why it won an Oscar. I wouldn't say that technically the cinematography is particularly groundbreaking - I would imagine the award was purely for the visual treat that the viewer is given due to the breathtaking Montana backdrop. If you've never wanted to be a cowboy before, you will after watching this! So the setting is visually beautiful but many of you will be watching this due to the attractiveness of the foreground - yep, this is a great showcase for fans of Mr.Pitt. His performance here helped cement his status as one of the hottest Hollywood stars of his generation and was part of a somewhat “golden” patch for him coming shortly after Kalifornia and Interview with the Vampire and just before Se7en and Twelve Monkeys. He was more than ably supported by the consistently excellent Anthony Hopkins, here playing the role he has mastered so well over the years - the stubborn, proud, honourable gentlemen. His performance here reminded me much of his fantastic Bligh in “The Bounty” with Mel Gibson. The other cast members are all perfectly good although Pitt and Hopkins, in my opinion put them all in the shade.
So we have good acting, fantastic scenery, an intriguing story - is there anything to not like about this movie? Well, it is a somewhat sprawling romantic drama with an “old fashioned” feel to it - this is not a criticism, merely an observation that this movie harks back to a style of film making and storytelling that is not so common these days. The nearest movies that I could compare it to in tone would be something like The English Patient or A Very Long Engagement - although perhaps more mainstream and accessible than either of those. Ultimately for a romantic drama to work, one must feel a connection with the characters - if you don't feel sympathy for Susannah or empathy with Tristan for example you are not going to care whether their love overcomes the odds or not. Thankfully here, for me at least, the cast made me believe in the characters and hence I was drawn into the story. It's not going to appeal to everyone but for those who like their drama on the epic side, this is well worth watching.
Our Review Ethos