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‘The Last of the Mohicans’ (R)By Desson Howe
Washington Post Staff Writer
September 25, 1992
You have to hand it to Michael Mann. The creator of "Miami Vice" and "Manhunter" knows exactly what he wants -- mood. In "The Last of the Mohicans," he gets it. Like an insane organ player, he pulls out every stop and hits every stirring chord he can.
This isn't just a respinning of the James Fenimore Cooper classic, it's a good-hair movie. When Mohican-raised foundling Daniel Day-Lewis and traveling Englishwoman Madeleine Stowe gaze into each other's eyes, their passion is deep, their locks tremendous. You're meant to understand everything between them -- by the lush music serenely tomahawking your skull.
This is the MTV version of gothic romance, a glam-opera of rugged, pretty people from long ago. Yet, by its own glossy, "Miami Vice" rules, the movie is stirring. Besides, novelist Cooper's vividly drawn savages and frontiersmen were hardly the stuff of hard-nosed realism. This movie is the Cooper pulp of its day.
The story's set in the unchartered, 18th-century forests of upstate New York. The British crown, with Colonial militia and Native American allies, is taking on the French -- allied with the Hurons.
Day-Lewis and his Mohican kin (Russell Means and Eric Schweig) join an English party (including Stowe), which is providing reinforcements for British-held Fort William Henry. To the jealous chagrin of priggish officer Steven Waddington, Day-Lewis and Stowe make beautiful soundtrack music together. "I think you and I are going to have a serious disagreement," Day-Lewis tells Waddington.
The war creates a myriad of conflicts -- military, personal, tribal and romantic. In addition to rival Waddington, Day-Lewis must contend with Stowe's patriotic father, fort commander Maurice Roeves. He must also defeat bellicose Wes Stud (as the infamous Huron Indian, Magua), who has a blood account to settle.
Day-Lewis doesn't act so much as bare himself, fire flintlocks and pose in picturesque positions. Stowe exudes the bite-the-lip yearnings of a Danielle Steele heroine. This whole war is grist for their love. When Day-Lewis persuades the Colonial militia to escape the besieged British fort to protect their vulnerable families, commander Roeves imprisons him for sedition. Stowe visits him in jail. Why, she asks, didn't he run away with the militia?
"Because what I'm interested in is right here," he says.
This scene's impact depends on a minimum of prison guards and a maximum of Glamour Magazine-meets-Rembrandt lighting. Day-Lewis and Stowe are GQ love cogs in director Mann's mood-modulating machinery. Whether there's a full-scale massacre of innocents, or a lover's kiss behind a raging waterfall, the movie is all expertly controlled sensation. Mann is also good with tension: When the Hurons lurk in the undergrowth before attacking the English, the anticipatory silence is powerful. And their hair looks great too. The battles are pyrotechnical displays of cannon fire and gleaming redcoats. Even the awesome landscape looks designed. Mann wasn't thinking story, he was thinking scheme. Keep the eyes and ears dazzled, he reasons, and the substance will follow.
Copyright The Washington Post