Directed by Michael Mann, the film is beautifully acted. Daniel Day-Lewis is mesmerizing as Nathanial “Hawkeye” Poe. Russel Means and Eric Schweig play Poe’s adoptive Mohican father (Chingachgook) and brother (Uncas) respectively. Wes Studi plays Magua, who provides the film with the requisite villain. Madeleine Stowe rounds out the cast as Hawkeye’s love interest.
Set during the French and Indian War, the British are fighting the French for control of North America. The British are trying to convince the local militia (comprised of colonists) to join in the fight against the French. The settlers are concerned that if they enlist in the cause, their homes and families will be left unprotected.
Hawkeye and his adoptive Mohican father and brother are traveling through the area and come across a party being lead by Magua, who is leading the party into an ambush. Hawkeye interrupts the attack on the party which includes Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe) and her sister, the daughters of a British officer. As it turns out, Magua is actually Huron but had been captured by the Mohawk. He holds the British responsible for losing his family so he is plotting to kill the daughters of a British officer to have his revenge. Magua is not a one dimensional villain: has has reasons, however misguided, for his desire for revenge.
The movie is beautifully filmed: Mann captured the era of North America just before there was a United States. Vast, lush, sweeping shots of virgin forest show the unspoiled land as it was during this period. This is showcased during the opening scenes when Hawkeye, Uncas and Chingachgook are hunting a stag and running through forest tracking it down to kill it.
The film has something for everyone: romance, action, adventure, a compelling storyline, exceptional acting. The costumes are well done, and the weapons, tomahawks, long rifles, hunting knives, and war clubs look realistic.
The action sequences are spectacular. Hawkeye in particular combines the grace and elegance of Rudolf Nureyev with the lethal fighting skills of Bruce Lee. Russell Means (as Chingachgook, Hawkeye’s adoptive father) wields his gun-stock war club with devastating authority. His final confrontation with Magua is emotionally satisfying, yet ultimately unavailing as Mohican has lost so much. Magua makes for a compelling villain: he has allowed his desire for revenge to twist him until it consumes him.
The only criticism I have is that there is one scene where a British soldier is graphically scalped by a Huron warrior. It is a very brutal scene and hard to watch.
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Worth a look if you like well-acted, broad, sweeping historical dramas.
Skip it if you are put off by violence.
MDE’s Self Appointed Movie Critic