In mid-18th century America, woodsman Hawkeye (Daniel Day-Lewis) lives amongst British colonists in New York state, but shares the cultural values of his adopted Mohican father, Chingachgook (Russell Means). At the height of the French-Indian war, Hawkeye is asked to lead two British sisters, Cora and Alice (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May), through dangerous territory to their father’s fort. With the French-allied Hurons on their trail, one of whom has a personal vendetta against the daughters, Hawkeye and his companion Uncas still find time for romance with their charges, much to the chagrin of the accompanying Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington), who has set his cap at Cora.
The Last of the Mohicans is a large-scale adventure set during the colonial conflicts between Britain and France 20 years before the American War of Independence. Based loosely on the novel by James Fenimore Cooper, but actually inspired by director Michael (Manhunter, Heat) Mann’s boyhood love of the 1936 film of the same name, this is rousing, romantic stuff. As “Hawkeye”, a white raised by the last of the Mohican tribe, Daniel Day-Lewis delivers a performance which, had he followed it up, could have established him as an action hero for the 1990s and beyond. Despite an under-written role Madeline Stowe convinces as the heroine. The remaining cast are uniformly excellent. Filmed amid the spectacular mountains, rivers and forests of North Carolina by Mann’s regular cinematographer, Dante Spinotti, the film is a visual joy, while Trevor Jones’ majestic, spine-tingling score (with additional music by Randy Edleman) is one of the finest of the decade. Taking time to establish the motives of British and French colonists and the various native tribes, as well as the varying opinions and characters within these groupings, Mann offers much greater balance and complexity than The Patriot (2000), yet never looses sight of the object here: telling a stirring yarn laced with bold action set pieces and passionate romance.
On the DVD: The anamorphically enhanced 2.35:1 image is a massive improvement over VHS, but still shows considerable grain in many scenes, possibly a result of the film being shot in low, natural light and containing many very dark sequences. The Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack is very powerful, though little use is made of the rear channels, and in some scenes the sound effects all but drown out the dialogue. Isolated scores are usually only found on feature-packed special editions, so the inclusion here is a welcome surprise–and a testament to its popularity. The only other extra is an anamorphic 2.35:1 presentation of the immensely stirring theatrical trailer. —Gary S Dalkin