Legends of the Fall (1994)

Legends of the Fall is one of those films that I kept hearing about, but somehow never saw even though it's over a decade old. Through the magic of DVD's, this deficit was easy enough to fix. The star studded cast includes Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn and Julia Ormond.

This is an epic kind of film, the kind that Hollywood only rarely embarks on these days in this era of sequels, and lower budget fluff (the last film I saw that was truly epic was this one from a while ago). Legends of the Fall takes place mostly in Montana, around the beginning of the twentieth century, which is an interesting time historically as America is assuming her place on the world stage as a serious player, and the industrial revolution is finishing up as the next era is beginning.

Anyway, enough history. The film follows the tale of three brothers, their father, a woman, and some American Indian ranch hands. The father is Colonel William Ludlow, played by Anthony Hopkins giving a masterful performance that makes the film worth watching just for that. He's a retired officer from the Western Indian Wars, and one day chooses to toss his saber and make a home in the wilderness of the American West by the Rocky Mountains of Montana with his three sons. The youngest son, Tristan is partially raised by the American Indian ranch hand, One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis) who is far more part of the extended family than hired help. The conflict occurs early on when son Samuel returns from back East with a potential fianceè to meet the family, Susannah Fincannon (Ormond). While I thought she was coming for a week or two, she moves in for the winter. The three boys, against the severest objections of their veteran father, then decide to join the fight in World War I, and Samuel pays the ultimate price. The two sons return home, but they clearly bear the scars of battle. What makes matters worse is that they both fall in love with Samuel's fianceè, Susannah.

What follows is a tale that is both timeless and classic. As time passes, we see the changes in America first hand impacting the family, and in turn their relationships. The film is also done so well that the characters have a very real sense about them, with layers of complexity and nuance developing them into real figures, and not just actors.

The character of Tristan is quite well developed. While he is not an American Indian, he ends up being a "half breed" of sorts by virtue that One Stab was his surrogate father. Whenever adversity strikes, he goes back to this Indian heritage and training, and becomes the warrior brave- whether it is appropriate or not. He also makes an interesting contrast to another character, Isabel Two. While she is of mixed ancestry, and was raised more as an American Indian culturally, the Colonel educates her in academics, which is the enantiomer of Tristan (ok, I'll admit that I've been waiting for years to use that word and it finally fits somewhere). It is any wonder that these two characters are attracted to each other as they dovetail perfectly in their upbringing.

Legends of the Fall is one of those epic films that most will enjoy, and everybody should see at least once. It works on many levels, including character, costume, scenery, cinematography, and some really great performances by some of Hollywood's best. If you haven't had the opportunity to see it, it's well worth seeking out on disc.

Overall Grade: A+

Reviewed by Jonas

1 comment:

James Lynch said...

I worked in a movie theater back when this was out, and after every show all the women leaving the theater talked about was how amazing Brad Pitt looked with his shirt off.