Note: Throwback Thursdays is a weekly column in which I will take an in-depth look at films of the past. A movie can be chosen for any reason, the only rule is that it has to be at least one year old. If you have any suggestions of movies you’d like to see in the future please leave a comment and let me know.
Most movies coming out of Hollywood are so simplistic that they can be easily summed up in one sentence (or even less). The Last of the Mohicans is not one of those movies. It is a story of the French and Indian War told with the immediacy of a contemporary expose; it presents its characters and details with an almost obsessive level of authenticity, yet allows their narrative to take on a myth-like structure; it contains rousing action yet has deep socio-political undercurrents. The Last of the Mohicans isn’t some puddle deep blockbuster, but a piece of art looking at a complicated moment in history with a layered and complex point of view.
All you have to do to begin to appreciate the thought that went into the movie is to consider its cinematography. Director Michael Mann (Heat, The Insider) and Cinematographer Dante Spinotti (L.A. Confidential, Public Enemies) create a painterly appearance to the film inspired by landscape painters of the 1800’s like Thomas Cole and Albert Bierstandt. What is so striking about taking inspiration from this classical perspective is that it allows them to not only establish the grandeur and reality of the untouched wilderness, but they need never shy away from creating clearly staged compositions. Part of the reality of the time period is created with the illusion of source lighting. This is not a film bathed in artificial light where you can clearly see every corner of the frame; it is a film of depth created with shadow and fog. Despite the appearance of realistic lighting, the shots are composed to be as beautiful as possible. It isn’t just interesting photographic choices that reveal this balancing act, it is apparent throughout the entire film.
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