"The Last of the Mohicans" does have some commentary about the plight of the American Indian in the mid-1700s and it boasts a romantic subplot that works quite well — but let's not kid ourselves. This is an action film. And what action!
Director Michael Mann ("Manhunter," TV's "Miami Vice") knows how to keep moviegoers on the edge of their seats and "The Last of the Mohicans" does so for nearly two full hours.
This is just the latest of several big-screen incarnations of James Fenimore Cooper's novel. This time, Oscar-winner Daniel Day-Lewis ("My Left Foot") has the lead as Hawkeye, the adopted son of a Mohican Indian.
Hawkeye becomes a reluctant scout for the British in the war between England and France, finds himself drawn to the daughter (Madeliene Stowe) of a British colonel and is pitted against an evil Huron named Magua (Wes Studi) as the action takes us from lush, green forests to Fort William Henry and back again.
Though the film is not heavy on story, "The Last of the Mohicans" is an immensely satisfying adventure that makes lavish use of the wide screen as it explores the landscapes of the really "Old West," while paying great attention to detail in costumes and set design as it re-creates the period.
But it is the action — hand-to-hand combat, characters racing through the trees and along cliffsides, jumping into waterfalls — and the images of huge blazing cannons alternating with the explosions of flintlock rifles that keep this movie going.
Day-Lewis is excellent as a man of honor who is compromised and betrayed by the British, while reluctantly himself falling in love with the daughter of a high-ranking officer. He projects all the emotions perfectly and makes for quite an imposing figure set against the landscapes. He's not as physically imposing as Harrison Ford but Hawkeye could give Indiana Jones a run for his money any day. Stowe is also very good as a strong, spirited woman who is every bit his match.
There are some blurred transitions here and moments when it's a bit hard to tell who is who and what exactly is going on, but the pacing is so quick-time and the visual imagery so stunning that you won't have much time to think about it. Mann may have earned his stripes with urban action thrillers, but he seems every bit as much at home in this setting — and here's hoping he does more in this genre.
"The Last of the Mohicans" is an exciting, thrilling adventure — and the R rating, for violence, seems a bit harsh.