1757. It is the 3rd year of the war between England and France for possession of the Continent.Three men, the last of a vanishing people, are on the frontier, west of the Hudson River.
Visual style over substance and a strong 80's penchant for mood in tone and colour-palette have been hallmarks of cult director Michael Mann. But when the Mann behind the trendsetting TV show Miami Vice found himself drawn towards a lavish, big budget adaptation of the classic James Fenimore Cooper “Longstocking” novel The Last Of The Mohicans (the most famous of five wilderness tales that feature the fabled hero of the multi-monikered Hawkeye, here played by Daniel Day-Lewis), he revealed a remarkable grasp of historical detail, enough to completely transport audiences back to the turbulent and ferocious Anglo-French War for the American Colonies, circa 1757. With a terrific cast, sumptuous locations in the Blue Ridge Mountains, and in North Carolina and elsewhere, and a fabulous, soul-stirring score he took the kind of old fashioned romantic adventure that had so captured his own imagination as a child (the 1936 version of the story starring Randolph Scott in particular) and added in kinetic, modern action set-pieces that contained the sort of realism that made grown men wince. Thus it was that after the cult Manhunter, the virtually lost but still cult The Keep, and Violent Streets, Mann bolted character and emotional truth to all that trademark ambience to create what is, in my opinion, the best action/adventure film of the nineties and, without a doubt, one of the most credible, moving and engrossing historical epics that has ever rampaged across the screen.
With a screenplay by Christopher Crowe and a budget that allowed him to not simply recreate the 18th Century, but to positively build it afresh from scratch (and no CG here, folks), Mann found enormous critical and box office success as a reward for such meticulous toil, but this has not stopped him from tinkering with, re-tuning and altering his epic over the years since its initial theatrical release. So now, for its Blu-ray debut, we have The Last Of The Mohicans presented in its “Definitive Director’s Cut”. The film is essentially the same, of course, although it now runs around three minutes shorter than the Extended Version that came out in 2000, tightening up the pace and returning the balance between action, romance, history and character. I’ll discuss the differences between the various versions in more detail later on, though. For now, let’s just remind ourselves of when Daniel Day-Lewis went native and we all trembled in terror from a dark-hearted Huron avenger called Magua.
“When the White Man came, night entered our lives.”
Set against a complex backdrop of war, with ever-changing alliances and undying hostilities and prejudices surrounding them, Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) falls for Miss Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), the daughter of an English Colonel. After saving Cora and her sister, Alice (Jodhi May), along with Cora's potential suitor, Major Duncan Heywood (Steven Waddington), from a terrifying Indian attack, Hawkeye and his companions escort them to the Colonel at Fort William Henry. All the while evading the French army and the pursuing Indians, led by the vengeful Magua (Wes Studi), who has an insatiable blood-feud against the Munro family, they must overcome betrayals, military wrath and horrifying butchery. Worlds and customs are colliding, the Frontier is being destroyed and a new nation is being irrevocably carved out from the soul of the old. It is a time of adventure and romance, the passing of cultures and the ever-present threat of annihilation, and in Michael Mann's hands The Last Of The Mohicans represents the most emotionally charged and mythically resonant historical epic that isn't Gladiator.
Acclaimed cinematographer Douglas Milsome (Robin Hood: Prince Of Thieves, The Shining) was initial DOP on Mohicans, but found himself replaced by Dante Spinotti after Mann was dissatisfied with his work. Milsome asserts that the swaparound was less than courteous, but Mann and others on the production team claim otherwise, with the age-old chestnut of “creative differences” being the excuse. But be this as it may, the results of Spinotti's photography are ravishing to behold, the wilderness coming alive with beauty, danger and lyricism. Endless forests roll over mist enshrouded valleys. Mountain passes so precarious that they resemble rocky paths leading all the way up to Heaven have us teetering on the brink of a picturesque abyss. Tumultuous waterfalls become coruscating barriers between live and death. A mesmerising distant firework display seen illuminating the night above the tree-line is revealed to be the incessant canon-fire bombardment of the French laying siege to a stricken English fort. The achingly gorgeous meadow-valley between two climbing sides of wooded glen becomes the scene of a horrific massacre. Spinotti, who had impressed Mann with his camerawork on Manhunter and would work with him again on The Insider and Public Enemies, makes all of this so breathtaking that you feel you are actually there – racing through the trees alongside frontier scout and woodsman Hawkeye, his adoptive Mohican father Chingachgook (Russell Means) and his blood-brother Uncas (Eric Schwieg), Chingachgook's son. He and Mann use the landscape not in the trademark sense of it becoming a “character” in its own right, but simply, and majestically as the geographical backdrop to the story – it continually fills the expansive screen from edge to edge with the very reason why all these disparate factions are fighting. And our prolonged exposure to these wild mountain ranges, exquisite and enchanting forests, luxurious rivers, lakes and waterfalls means that we, too, come to understand the value of the sacrifices being made, and just why everybody will ultimately lose. In spite of and because of such natural grandeur.
“You've done everything you can do. Save yourself! If the worst happens, and only one of us survives, something of the other does, too.”
But if the setting is a living, breathing environment that we can totally associate and empathise with, then the characters who strive to survive amongst it have to be at least as believable. And, here, the casting by Mann and Bonnie Timmerman is truly exemplary.
The son of the Poet Laureate, Daniel Day-Lewis, then thirty-five, had received global and Academy recognition for his outstanding portrayal of the crippled artist Christie Brown in My Left Foot, and had delivered sterling work in My Beautiful Launderette and A Room With A View, not to mention The Unbearable Lightness Of Being, and his customary deep obsession with finding his character for each role was fast becoming legendary. But a critically drubbed performance of Hamlet on stage found the intense actor taking off in what would turn out to be a regular cycle of inner-purging and soul-redemption into a world of self-contained seclusion. When Michael Mann and the part of Hawkeye came calling, every instinct warned Day-Lewis that it wasn't for him, yet he found himself accepting it almost without hesitation. Six weeks of gruelling survival training in the Special Operations Centre in Alabama – a privately run camp for counter-terrorism techniques – honed him, body and soul, into the 18th Century frontiersman of yore, his body whittled down into lean, hard muscle, his marksmanship reaching the point where he could, in reality, hit the target dead centre with an old powder-and-shot, muzzle-loading rifle every single time, trap animals and construct bivouacs instinctively and cover large distances of rough terrain at a trot and in any type of weather. It is customary nowadays to hear of actors undergoing rigorous fight-training and going through bootcamp (the extras playing soldiers, here, suffered under the iron grip of US Marine Drill Instructor extraordinaire-and-film actor, Dale Dye, no less), but Day-Lewis went beyond what was required of him by the studio and the production. And if his leading man was going to go the extra mile, then the director would have been ashamed of himself if he hadn't gone along with him. Thus, both Mann and Day-Lewis famously took themselves off into the wilds of Alabama to live off the land and compete in bygone skills with tomahawk, traps and tracking.
“There is a war on, how is it that you are headed west?”
“Well, we kinda face to the north and, real sudden-like, turn left.”
Hawkeye reveals the extent of all his years of experience learning wilderness skills.
A rangy mane of raven locks, his arms pin-pricked with tribal tattoos, the bygone-times equivalent of Predator’s Ol’ Painless slung across his back, Day-Lewis naturally looks the part of Hawkeye. But for an actor who was not then known for playing action heroes – and he hasn’t played any since, come to think of it – and a performer who finds putting on muscle and training his body an incredibly difficult thing to do, he makes for one of the most authentic and downright believable characters to go running up and down mountains, leaping through the curtains of a waterfall, and indulging in manner of nasty close-quarter skirmishing with knife and tomahawk. The shy, unassuming performer, as we have seen so often – with Gangs Of New York and There Will Be Blood only cementing the fact - is truly able to come right out of his shell and inhabit the body and the mindset of another human being entirely. Aye, it is called “acting”, but to take it to this sort of level – animal magnetism, intelligence, hyper-sensory alacrity, pride and sheer strength of character – there has to be a special kind of magic thrown into the mix as well.
“A warrior comes to you as swift and straight as an arrow shot into the sun ...”
Native Indian activist and staunch hater of Dances Of Wolves, Russell Means, a bonafide Oglala/Lakota Souix who believes that his people have never had their story told properly despite such allegedly revisionist productions as Costner’s sweeping epic, is a man of few words in this version (that rather protracted and completely unnecessary speech that he gives at the Top of the World in the end of the previous Extended Cut has been jibbed), but he carries such dignity and charisma … as well as a bloody big tribal axe. Not a professional actor – merely an “Indian who can act”, as he terms it – Means is a wonderfully reassuring presence throughout the film, and it is strange that having less dialogue actually makes him a more memorable character. Look at the genuine affection for his son that Chingachgook has on his face when they sit around the table in the Camerons' cabin. Means doesn't need to say anything as good natured jokes about Uncas' family prospects are bandied-about, he merely has to smile in warm adoration for a son he dearly loves. Chingachgook knows that Uncas is the only one capable of carrying on the blood-line of the Mohicans, and even if the times they are living in are hard and dangerous, he has no fears for, or doubts about, his son. There is a marvellously heartfelt quality to this hearth-and-fire spell of mutual comradeship and frontier harmony. It is, of course, the tentative lull before an extremely grim and tragic storm that is about to come howling down the valley. Roger Donaldson effected a very similar scene in his big adaptation of The Bounty, starring Mel Gibson and Anthony Hopkins, as Fletcher Christian and Captain Bligh respectively, along with Day-Lewis, in an early role as the harsh authoritarian Officer Fry, enjoy a parting-meal in the Bligh household before setting off on their tormented voyage. Mann captures just the same feeling of dangerous optimism and apprehensive good cheer. With such beautifully harnessed subtlety, though, it is Means who makes the situation so touching.
“Greyhair, before you die … know that I will put under the knife your children … so that I will wipe your seed from the earth.”
The villainous Magua has always been one of literature's most bloodcurdling creations. Totally driven by a blood-vengeance that seemingly no amount of savagery is able to quell, he is the scowl-faced nightmare that stalks out of Cooper's florid prose to become a truly impressive bogeyman. But, in the writing of Christopher Crowe and the inspired handling of Studi, Magua also becomes something much more than a mere monster. Imbued with a tragic backstory that is only teased out of him along the way by Montcalm, and genuine notions of how he and his people must change if they, as a race, are to survive the unstoppable arrival of the white man, the Huron warrior is the most forward-thinking character in the film, and very possibly the deepest. I find it amusing that when I first saw the film at the flicks back in 1992, I positively dreaded his next appearance on-screen, such was the frightening power of his intimidatory countenance. But now I relish each and every scene that Magua inhabits, although it is fair to say that his dark presence looms over the entire film like the fingers of blackest night infiltrating the forest. Now he doesn't seem anywhere near the savage beast that he once came across as. Still a terrifying force of nature, yes, but you cannot help but feel for his thwarted and heartbroken warrior. Having suffered as much as he did with the loss of his own family, would you not feel exactly the same unquenchable thirst for unholy retribution, yourself? The story could so easily have been told from his entire point of view, with Magua thus fulfilling the role of hero. And in spite of his character's utterly remorseless contempt for the colonists and for anyone, for that matter, who gets in his way, there are one or two moments when something a little less sinister flickers behind those otherwise impenetrably dark eyes. The first comes when Hawkeye, during a sequence of incredibly selfless courage, confronts him before the great Huron Chief Sachem to bargain for the lives of his hostages and challenges his “assimilation policy” for his people in the face of the foreign mass-invasion. Magua's ideas are brought to bear and his defence of them, in French, Huron and, emphatically, English (or “Yeng-eese”) is brilliantly telling. He is not ashamed of his politics, but it is clear that he would rather they had not been divulged under such incontrovertible circumstances. The second and more emotional example is high up on the promontory as Alice deliberately takes a couple of steps too close to the edge after witnessing the Huron commit another unspeakable deed. We are already in the midst of one of the greatest and most haunting set-piece climaxes ever committed to celluloid, and now Studi, with just a gesture of his blood-stained hand, a hard swallow in that lean throat of his and a wonderful melange of emotions churning against one another in those ebony eyes, conjures up the “true” noble savage of Cooper's historical spirit. Magua, perhaps only now, comes to understand something of a love stronger than life, of a wretched disbelief in fighting any more for a wilderness that will soon be gone. He exhibits confusion, coiled anger and ultimately a fateful comprehension as he resigns himself to the enormity of the bigger picture that surrounds him. It is a spellbinding moment of the purest cinema. Hawkeye is the classic hero that we all admire, but it is Studi's indelible Magua who comes to mind first when we reflect upon Mann's masterpiece.
“A breed apart … we make no sense!”
With her turns in this, the urban thriller Unlawful Entry (with Kurt Russell) and a stocking-clad spell of doomed noir in The Two Jakes, Madeleine Stowe became one of the hottest women brandished by Hollywood during the early nineties. That she is a great actress, as well as a stunner, can only boost her rebel-spirited English rose caught between two worlds, as Miss Cora Munro, the eldest and most outspoken daughter of the admirably starched Colonel doggedly fighting the Imperial fight. Cooper’s original story attested to her strong character and the changing of her outlook and worldview once she has confronted the untameable nature of the frontier, and whilst Mann’s movie adaptation strives to do the same thing, it is unavoidable that Cora, and her younger and more fragile sister still become the damsels in distress that have to be rescued continually from hordes of painted devils. Yet Stowe is able to elevate her character above the necessary mechanics of the plot, just the same. Cora’s polite decline of Duncan is mannered and heartfelt, but her one-shot transformation from aristocratic reserve to full-on temptress as Hawkeye simply stares at her, no doubt assessing how he will pioneer her fertile land, is a joy to behold. Stowe is no bubblehead, and even though she ends up fulfilling precisely the doting heroine that the genre genuinely prefers, she does so with more vigour and soul than you would have expected. It is, however, something of a shame that poor Jodhi May gets less lines than a captured scout with his tongue cut out, whichever version of the film you watch. But as well as being the centrepiece of one of the most haunting sequences, she makes the tiniest moment all the more effective even only in-passing. Look at the scene when Duncan, after he has betrayed Hawkeye to the Colonel about the raid on Cameron’s Cabin, comes to see Cora to offer his final proposal and Alice, upon waking, resignedly and diligently exits the room with a soft and plaintiff “Talk to Duncan.” Weirdly, we feel as much for her in this moment as we do for the two stronger characters.
And then there is Uncas, played by Eric Schweig. Handsome, proud and totally as at-home cutting and smashing his way through legions of bloodthirsty Hurons as he is pursuing elk through the forest, Uncas finds his own world turned upside-down when he falls for Cora's quiet and retiring sister, Alice. But embarking on the Shakespearean path of star-crossed lovers, the two don't find much time for comfort or intimacy and yet, whether it be a stolen glance or a snatched hug behind the veil of a waterfall, you totally understand the fateful decisions that the pair make as the film goes on. Schweig almost has an Errol Flynn look about him, but he would totally turn this heroic angle on its head when he appeared as the unbelievably nasty and thoroughly intimidating witch-doctor-cum-white slaver in the savage Western The Missing, opposite Cate Blanchett and Tommy Lee Jones.
“What are you looking at, sir?”
“I'm looking at you, miss.”
With his highly impressive cast of Iroquois Indians playing the assorted Mohawks, Abenaki and Hurons, Mann perfectly captures those old paintings that so fired up his imagination. It has always been something of a cinematic cliché to depict the Redskin as a stoic, cold and seemingly emotionless, his face rigid and inscrutable. Well, Mann conforms to this to a degree. Chingachgook, Uncas and various other natives all clearly exhibit emotions and are keen to have various expressions flicker across their faces, and a definite warmth to their eyes, but the Huron are not permitted much in the way of basic humanity. They stand en masse around Magua during many scenes, silent and utterly bereft of the tiniest of advertised emotion, even during some of the most thunderous and memorable of occasions. This is not a fault, however, and nor is it simple pandering to genre convention. These men are passengers in the telling of their own story, totally absorbed in their part in the grand scheme. To reveal any emotion in the face of circumstance, even those circumstances that could prove their undoing and potential demise, would be to lose control, pride and spirit. Nevertheless, it can be amusing to see them all with their faces utterly locked into a form of semi-indifference during some crucial moments of fateful intervention.
“I thought British policies were make the world England.”
It should also be said that Steven Waddington (Sleepy Hollow, The One That Got Away) is terrific as the love-lost Major Duncan Heywood. He plays his part in all the battles, he cuts an imperious and arrogant dash through the saga, resplendent in his red tunic, and he takes on a fascinating dimension in the broader scale of the events that affect our main cluster of protagonists. Waddington is one of those familiar faces from screens both big and small, yet rarely gets much accolade. Here in Mohicans he has possibly his best and most comprehensive role and despite his rivalry with Hawkeye and his foolishly staunch complicity in Col. Munro's treachery, we like the guy and we certainly sympathise with his plight – especially as Cora throws him over with such apparent ease for the wild-haired scout. Later scenes find Waddington thrust into some dire situations, and it would be a hard heart indeed that didn't pray for Hawkeye's “parting shot” to find its mark a little quicker. The finely gruff Scottish actor Maurice Roëves is perfect as the desperate Col. Munro, elated to be reunited with his daughters, but distraught at the circumstances in which they now find themselves. Roëves actually has quite a difficult job to do. His patriotic and determined old war-dog has to thank Hawkeye and the Mohicans for safely transporting his children through a battle-zone, listen patiently to their concerns about the innocent folks left defenceless along the frontier and then, biting hard on the bullet that is “duty”, have to reprimand, imprison and then order the execution of the very saviour he is indebted to … and Roëves has to make all of this convincing without coming across as a stuffy, one-dimensional curmudgeon. His counterpart, the French General Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) is equally as good. Where it may have been something of a tedious momentum-stopper to see either of these two indulging in their respective military scheming, both bring a certain gravitas to the table that enables nuance and pride shine through their respective austerity – a dark and regal fatalism for Munro and a sense of beguiling camaraderie that gleams through Montcalm's warm deception.
“You be strong. You survive! You stay alive … no matter what occurs I will find you. No matter how long it takes, no matter how far. I will find you!”
Come on, be honest, your heart is in your mouth when Hawkeye makes this rousing pledge to Cora, isn't it?
Mann lifts the raw aggression of Cooper's intense battle scenes right from the page, but refuses to coat the action with any of the glamour that many a director before this may have dressed it up with. There is no frame-jumping snap-edits from the duo of editors Dov Hoenig and Arthur Schmidt because the film relies on full-bore, in-yer-face naturalism and free-flowing, continuous lensing. Some scenes play out with sinew-straining, tension-heightening slow-motion – Hawkeye's hell-for-leather run through the chaos of the redcoat massacre to rescue Cora – whilst others play out in furious real-time, Spinotti's camera tracking each muzzle-flash and every grim hack and slice of a tomahawk with super surety and pulverisingly smooth finesse. The whirling and tumbling of bodies – Hawkeye is adept at flipping an opponent over - and the intimate detail of one-on-one carnage combining with the larger images of mass-struggle paint a shocking depiction of colonial warfare that is anything but quaint. In fact, so terrible is the first battle, in which Heywood's command is mercilessly decimated by howling renegades considerably tougher and meaner than they - one poor Redcoat receives flurry of vicious body-blows before having his scalp sliced off all in one heartstoppingly grisly take – that when we next hear Huron and Mohawk war-whoops, our own blood runs cold at the thought of what may follow. Look at the way that an unsuspecting English soldier actually smiles at Magua the second before he gets a tomahawk thwacked into him! The smartly efficient way that Heywood ducks beneath a swinging club before deftly pistol-whipping his attacker in the painted mush. And then there is the simply blood-curdling way that a couple of stray warriors, too impatient to wait for Magua's command break cover, and just wade into the British column with courageous but frenzied brutality during the later battle-scene. All of this builds up to the mighty and practically wordless confrontation on the high promontory, when our main characters all come into their own with adrenalised heroism and Zen-like stamina. Hawkeye's on-the-hoof pick 'n' mix of rifles and that fabulous two-gun double-assassination would be the film's most celebrated glory shot if old Chingachgook didn't then steal his thunder with a climactic act of justified retribution so ragingly cathartic that it should have you on your feet and cheering. Like the most protracted and operatic show-downs in a Leone Western, this intoxicating climax gets inside you like a drug, the beauty and violence of it all driven on by such relentlessly churning and cyclic music from Trevor Jones that you find yourself humming it as you run for the bus or the train days afterwards.
With all this good stuff on offer and my typically ripe and slavish praise for it, it seems only fair that I pick up on one of the film's few, but glaring shortcomings. For one of the most pivotal scenes – that of Hawkeye and Cora first getting intimate – the use of music is absolutely essential. As much I admire Mann's work elsewhere, and positively adore most of what he has done with Mohicans, I have to say that I detest this utterly unconvincing “kissing” sequence when played beneath Jones' softer and more lyrical rendition of the very same piece of music as mentioned for the action scene above. Day-Lewis makes for a tremendous and indeed peerless romantic hero, and the loin-stirring allure of Stowe was practically without equal during this period, but shoving the two of them together for this camera-swirling, lip-rubbing tryst just doesn't work, I'm afraid. Well, not for me, anyway. I don't care how “in character” Mann and Day-Lewis think this comes across as being, but this is snogging done very, very badly. For me, this sticks out a mile from a film that has, otherwise, been painstakingly authentic in every conceivable way. The music – Jones' simply mesmerising adaptation of Dougie MacLean's The Gael – is wonderful and heart-soaringly romantic, but the bogus facial nuzzling and complete lack of true (real-life or cinematic) passion just leaves the visual side of things a little unsatisfying and, quite frankly, absurd. But then Michael Mann is not a director who immediately springs to mind when a scene of such, ahem, far less violent physical contact is required. He is infinitely better when dealing with the manners of the times and the restraint of those pent-up inner feeling than with the eventual release of such passion.
But this is the only real caveat in the film, unless you count those ghastly fake rocks during the finale. Once you've spotted them – and they are surprisingly poor, folks – you will always see them. So, rest assured, I'm not going to point them out.
“You do what you want with your own scalps, and don't be telling us what we ought to do with ours.”
I've made a couple of references to the highly acclaimed score from Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman already but, as regular readers will know (and probably be expecting), we simply have to discuss this truly awesome contribution to the film a lot further. With a main title theme that Bill Clinton famously used as his election campaign anthem and extensively heralded sports events from the Vegas Jousting Tournaments to the Winter Olympics, you simply couldn’t ask for a more rousing, more emotional, more downright heroic piece of music. I’ve heard it at the Edinburgh Tattoo and at Crufts and even though it chimes right on in with any endeavour that demands strength of body, of mind and of spirit, it shall always conjure up images and impressions of charging headlong through a primal forest with a tomahawk in hand and bloodshed on your mind. Michael Mann had initially commissioned Jones to compose an electronic score, the type of ambient mood fugue that had cushioned Thief, The Keep and Manhunter. But as the story and the flavour of the period evolved, it became clear that only a full-on symphonic orchestral score would do. With MacLean’s addictive The Gael fuelling the passion and the fury of the film’s two most emotive set-pieces - The Kiss as Hawkeye and Cora get to know one another a little bit more intimately, and Promontory, when all the trials and tribulations of the main characters, both good and bad, come to a fierce head above the very land they are all fighting for. Mann and Jones provide one of Cinema’s most sumptuous and everlasting themes with their cyclic, rhythmic and yearning rendition of MacLean’s celebrated Celtic folk tune. I wanted it played at my wedding-do, but the wife stubbornly clung to Spandau Ballet! The heaviest and more large-scale action scenes are bolstered by extremely strong and percussive passages that build, and build, and build some more … reaching an almost unbearable frenzy of musical violence that only finds release when the main theme segues into the fray. With the Ambush, when Heywood’s escort marches into Magua’s trap, and then the Massacre of the English refugees, Jones and his orchestra create a maelstrom of death and cruelty, yet on both occasions, the end result is spine-tingling and rousing at the same time. The more lyrical and folky, or peaceful, sections were composed by Randy Edelman, both tunesmiths approached separately by Mann. The ratio between the two is roughly seventy-twenty in Jones’ favour, with a few additional period source cues coming from Daniel Lanois and Phil Cunningham, and the pop-folk group Clannad, famous for creating the score for the 80's TV series Robin Of Sherwood It has become strangely common, these days, to knock this score for its overbearing dominance over the action, but I still reckon that this is one of the all-time greats and that it totally gets in-tune with the emotions of the characters and the situations and embellishes the bravura sense of danger and derring-do with tremendous gusto.
“I am Le Long Carabine! My death is a great honor to the Huron, take me!”
This new version of Mohicans is a different take again on what audiences first saw back in 1992, and then discovered in the Expanded Edition. Mann has only slightly relented on the toughening-up of Hawkeye that he did last time around, with only a couple of his one-liners returning. We still lose the line from the canoe - “Got nothing better to do on the lake today, Major?” - as he spies Heywood pointing a pistol at him from another canoe. But we regain his great line - “Someday, Major, I think you and I are going to have a serious disagreement” - that was shorn from the last edition. The longer scene of John Cameron and Jack Winthrop readying their weapons when they hear a noise outside the cabin, not realising that it is Hawkeye and his chums, has been removed again. Hayward's diversionary sortie outside the fort to cover the flight of the message-courier is still gone – which I feel is a shame as this skirmish with hostiles serves to remind us that the threat to the English outpost doesn't just come from the more dignified French. Cora's ironic rebuttal to Hawkeye about she and her kin “being a breed apart” returns to this cut, as does Clannad's song “I Will Find You “, although now the ditty is more appropriately performed in Gaelic. This replaces the Expanded re-use of The Gael, which to my mind was just overkill of the best theme in the film. Perhaps most obviously of all, we lose the rather unnecessary speech from Chingachgook at the end as the “new trio” stand at the top of the world and survey the next frontier. This, reinstated in the last edition but not heard in the original theatrical cut, was simply appalling. As wonderful as Russell Means is, the dialogue simply wasn't required as it merely stated the obvious to us. Thankfully its removal adds poignancy to the film, making his lingering and heartbroken look at Hawkeye all the more moving. Plus, this cut restores the full axe-killing at the end that was shortened last time around!
I don't know if this version of the film is the best or not, to be honest. All three have things going for them, and this “Definitive Director's Cut” wants to be something of a happy middle-ground. Fans can enjoy debating the merits of each cut, but this take is almost certainly more of a crowd-pleaser than the often-dismissed (and even despised) Expanded Cut.
I cannot recommend this film enough, folks. The story is tremendous and vividly told by actors who are unmistakably entombed within their characters. The action is punishing and often frightening to witness. Our emotions are twisted and stirred continually and, come the end, there is a genuine feeling of breathless euphoria. For me, Michael Mann has never attained the same level of intensity – no, not even Heat – and The Last Of The Mohicans stands as his greatest achievement.
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