Michael Mann’s “The Last of the Mohicans”–the latest screen adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s classic adventure tale of life in the British colonies in America–benefits from rich source material and good performances. Film shouldn’t have much trouble finding its audience, although viewers familiar with the Seven Years War will be better prepared to keep alliances straight. Pic premiered in Paris, where literary lion Cooper lived from 1826-33, in advance of U.S. bow Sept. 25.
The story is a great ode to freedom and self-determination played out against codes of honor and loyalty, circa 1757. Lensed in South Carolina, pic blends pure adventure with a compelling central romance.
Sisters Alice (Jodhi May) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe) Munro are being escorted through hostile country to join their father Colonel Munro (Maurice Roeves), the British commander of Fort William Henry, which is under siege by the French.
Rigid English soldier Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington) is courting Cora without success.
Lean and intense, with a dashing mane of hair, Day-Lewis brings his customary concentration to the role of the courageous woodsman who is at one with nature.
Hawkeye, an orphaned colonial child raised by Indians, is a finely tuned hybrid–a human transition between America’s original tenants and the shape of the population to come. Day-Lewis is all integrity and he thinks on his fleet feet.
Although they seem at first to be incompatible, the convincing attraction between Stowe and Day-Lewis arises from shared ideals, piqued by the excitement of life-and-death ordeals.
Magua (played with savage menace by Cherokee actor Wes Studi), a Huron scout allied with the French, is carrying out a deadly vendetta against the Munro family.
Native America activist Russell Means is a wise bit of casting, as is French stage director Patrice Chereau as the French commander, the Marquis de Montcalm.
Well-staged battle sequences are brutal. Pacing is fluid and pic builds to action-packed finale on a majestic ridge.