Extraordinary Adventures usually take place in far off places. Or in exotic locales, pursuing beautiful women and diffusing smart bombs. Usually there’s some sort of desert involved.
So perhaps it is quite a shock to start off a countdown of the world’s most Extraordinary Adventures (in any media) with something that takes place in America’s own backyard with America’s original inhabitants: Actors.
The Last of the Mohicans may seem like a really odd fit for an adventure list, but of course that is only if you’ve read the stodgy old James Fennimore Cooper novel. Which I confess, I have not. But I have read the Wikipedia entry about it and was not terribly impressed. In fact, not to run the word into the ground, but the Wikipedia entry itself was a tad stodgy. I tend to avoid old things that strike me as stodgy. At second blush, you may remember there was a black-and-white Hollywood movie version made in the early nineteen something or others. And hats off to you if you remember that movie because that would make you around 70. At any rate, we are quite lucky that there was. Not because it is a great film adaptation, but because if was, Hollywood might not have decided to remake it in 1992 with Wes Studi.
Oh yeah, and Daniel Day Lewis is in it too. For those of you who don’t know, Daniel Day Lewis is famous for quitting acting to become an apprentice cobbler in Italy. Sadly that is not a joke. He really was an apprentice cobbler, but before all that he managed to make one of the most pretentious adventure movies on our list. All with the help of one smarmy-looking Michael Mann, who was the wunderkind in charge of making Miami Vice, which was sort of the precursor to Baywatch. In other words, he’s a man who knows how to heat things up.
I recently sat down to re-watch Mohicans and it’s obvious right off the bat that something is running through the forest. Cutting to the chase from the chase; the thing that was running through the forest was in fact, an elk. Followed closely by an apprentice cobbler from Italy named Hawkeye (awesome) played by Daniel Day Lewis. It seems young Hawkeye or Nathaniel as he’s sometimes called is the adopted son of (stay with me here) Chingachgook who has an actual biological son named Uncas presumably because it is much easier to pronounce. The adopted white son is a common thread among Hollywood movies whereby you have to explain why the movie star who is obviously not Persian is playing the role of the Prince. (See also: The Godfather)
Being able to add a lot of action in what is actually a sort of Merchant-Ivory production is no small feat. And by starting the story with the hunt we are clued in on what’s different about this version: Wicked cool tomahawks. In all serious, a debt is owed to Michael Mann here because the editing and the pacing of this sequence is superb. The entire film plays as a wonderful travelogue as well, and is balanced so well that some might even call it “politically correct.”
And so it is, but in a good way. There are Good Indians and Bad Indians just as there are Good English and Bad English. The main villain here is Magua as played by Cherokee actor Wes Studi and he is beyond stellar. He actually should be on a list of best film villains. It’s that good. Studi has done other work, most recently in Avatar, but this is his best role to date. He has very few lines but the menace is palpable. There’s also a sly bit of underplayed confusion at the Europeans coming from Studi here. From another point of view Magua is not a villain but, in fact, a noble warrior. His confusion when someone threatens suicide is as understatedly terrific, as his acceptance of it.
Some of the action scenes are quite tough and actually show scalping in all its gory detail, so be careful. But the story is quite effecting. A fantastic final scene that settles all scores, and leaves us with the titular last of the Mohicans caps it off, but the meat of the movie is the love story. There’s a great attack on the fort and a stirring escape/desertion with Day Lewis and his brother adding cover. Not to mention a great leap from a waterfall and an amazing musical score. Very short on missteps, The Last of the Mohicans deserves its place at first/last in our countdown.
Also, because it was written by an Englishmen, it technically does involve far off places, albeit from an English point of view, natch. Also there is a lot of pursuing of beautiful women, but unfortunately no disarming of smart bombs. Next up: 99.