Monday, 28 October 2013


“When a white army battles Indians and wins, it is called a great victory, but if they lose it is called a massacre.” - Chiksika, Shawnee

When I was young I read the classics of literature, some appropriate for my age, others not so. One of them I remember vividly was James Fenimore Cooper’s “The Last of the Mohicans”. This was a rollicking tale quite exotic and full of adventure, battle and a plot full of incident and brave deeds. After reading it, I remember also a version of the same novel falling into my hands in the “Classics Illustrated” series – remember those? As a consequence, the novel stayed relatively fresh in my mind, well into my adulthood. And so often it is with the classics – we read them at a young age and then they get relegated to the depths of the bookcase, to remain there and not get re-read.

When I caught sight of the Michael Mann 1992 movie of “The Last of the Mohicans” starring Daniel Day-Lewis, Madeleine Stowe and Russell Means, I smiled and had to get it to watch as it conjured up visions of my youth and flights of my imagination. The film did not disappoint, and sure enough it stirred up my memories and the tale was told well enough cinematically.

The plot takes place in the mid-1700s in the Canadian/USA border where British and French troops do battle in colonial America, with aid from various native American war parties who have sided according to different loyalties. The British troops enlist the help of local colonial militia men, who are reluctant to leave their homes undefended. A budding romance between a British officer’s daughter and an independent man who was reared as a Mohican complicates things for the British officer, as the adopted Mohican pursues his own agenda despite the wrath of different people on both sides of the conflict.

There is plenty of spectacle in the movie, carefully orchestrated battle scenes, hand-to-hand combat, adventurous escapades, trekking through the wild frontier and lots of noble derring-do as the forces of good do battle with evil, personified by Magua (Wes Studi), the Indian with a grudge against the British who killed his family. It’s interesting that some Indians are represented as noble and good and others as evil and scheming – rather than the typical Western where the Indians are all savages hell-bent on rampaging and killing and scalping. The British get a rather bad write-up as well, with the French being depicted as wily and diplomatic. The colonials are the stock “good guys” – perhaps with good reason, given the way that they were taken advantage of by the ruling British.

Academy Award Winner Daniel Day Lewis does a great job as Hawkeye, the legendary warrior who encourages the Colonial militia to desert and is definitely the hero of the movie. Madeleine Stowe plays Cora with fiery strength and sensitivity when she needs to, a perfect foil to Day Lewis’s Hawkeye. Jodhi May is the blonde Alice, Cora’s younger timid sister, who manages to rise up to the challenge of the final scenes of the movie with great aplomb. Russell Means is powerful as the Mohican elder Chingachgook who acts as point of reference for all that is noble and good in the Native American. Wes Studi plays Magua, the infamous Huron Indian, perfect as the strong, vibrant villain consumed with hatred. The cast is directed well by Mann, who keeps the pace furious and well-suited to the breathes action of the text.

Overall we enjoyed this movie quite a lot, although it was quite violent and graphic in parts (yes there are scalping scenes!). Definitely one for those rainy Sunday afternoons where one needs a good rollicking film to watch.

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