No matter how many times I watch Michael Mann’s The Last of the Mohicans, it’s classic qualities resonate freely and mythically unlike any of his other pcitures. Dante Spinotti’s wide screen images of the frontier, the haunting score, and Mann’s attention to the professionalism of both soldier and trapper, equal a special Hollywood coup seen few other times. Mann’s action sequences, both bloody and picturesque, feel natural, dangerous, and authentic. The relationships between Nathaniel (Daniel Day Lewis) and his Mohican family allow Mann a sturdy foundation, rooted in the family of frontier life. The opening scenes of Nathaniel running through the dense forest, shooting a deer, thanking the deer for dying to feed them, then traveling to the peaceful homstead, introduce a way of life that’s about to end.
When life is torn apart by the British, French, and the brutal Huron warrior Magua, the conflict has a demanding force driving the story throughout, steeped in the mythic qualities of the enivoronment which existed in the past. Mann’s films for the most part knowingly feel fluid, but never before and never since has he crafted such a structured, classical Hollywood film, immersed in the past, yet refreshingly current in it’s style. It’s an oddity in the Mann cannon, not only because it’s the only period piece he’s made that works (Ali is a wash), but more crucially to his themes, the film revolves around the disruption of an entire environment, instead of a collective group of professionals. This is where the classic nature of Mohicans references a loss of past traditions and ideologies and a cynicism toward the future, despite the seemingly closed ending. The final battle sequence on the rocky cliffs (it could have been pulled from any Anthony Mann western), is a personal quest for sanity by Mann’s key players, using brutal violence to exact revenge and stasis, much like those of Heat, Miami Vice, and Manhunter. In vintage Mann fashion, the impressions of these final moments will inevitably and hauntingly last a lifetime for his damaged but breathing protagonists.