Saturday, May 11, 2013


(December 1994, U.S.)

I'm convinced (as are many other film fans, I'm sure) that movies make the best travel guides. After seeing and enjoying films like LEGENDS OF THE FALL and Robert Redford's own A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT (1992) and THE HORSE WHISPERER (1998), I'm very eager to visit the beautiful state of Montana sometime before I die. For this film, it's very easy to lose one's self in the incredible cinematography of John Toll (for which it won the Oscar) as he captures the wonderous glories of Montana's mountains, it's skies and its waters. Oh, and the story's not too bad, either.

This film by by Edward Zwick (GLORY and THE LAST SAMURAI) spans the decade before World War I through the Prohibition era, and into the 1930s. It centers on the Ludlow family of Montana, including veteran of the Indian Wars Colonel Ludlow (played by Anthony Hopkins), his sons, Alfred (played by Aidan Quinn), Tristan (played by Brad Pitt in a role that's very similar to the one he achieved in A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT) and Samuel (played by Henry Thomas), and object of the love of all three brothers Susannah (played by Julia Ormond in her debut film role). Susannah is Samuel's fiancé, but before they ever have to opportunity to marry, or even sleep together (Tristan recommends FUCKING!), he announces to his family that he's leaving for Calgary to join the Canadian Expeditionary Force and aid Britain in the fight against Germany. Much to their father's displeasure, Alfred and Tristan also depart to not only fullfill their duty to their country, but to watch over young Samuel, as well. In fact, as much of a wild man as Tristan is, it's his love and protection over his younger brother that makes him rather compelling. Ultimately, Tristan cannot save Samuel from a violent death in No Man's Land by the German's bullets. It's during this particular sequence, I might add, that I'm most captivated by a particular man's look. Just before Samuel is about to meet his end, he's tangled up in the enemy's wire and blinded by the gases. He calls out for his Tristan to help him and looks quite panicked by the thought that he won't find him. When he finally hears his older brother's voice, there is a very brief smile on Samuel's face filled with hope and love in that his older brother, possibly his best friend in the entire world, is finally there to save him and get him home. That look gets me every time! But like I said, that never happens. It's sad, even heartbreaking to watch a devastated Tristan hold Samuel until he dies and then cuts out Samuel's heart in tradition of the American Indian way, which he sends home to be buried on his father's ranch. Seething with hatred, Tristan single-handedly raids behind German lines, killing two gunners. That sort of revenge is irresistably fun to watch!

It's safe to say, at this point, that no one can love you like a brother can. It's also safe to say that no one can enrage you, break your heart and even betray you like a brother can! This is a story of brothers (only TWO now) and the saga of their relationship and how a woman is the ultimate cause of all that takes place between them; the good and the bad. By the time the entire saga has unfolded, Susannah has been with all three brothers in one fashion or another, but she's never hidden her true love and desire for Tristan above all, even when he disappears for years upon end to do battle with the dark demons he keeps from his experience in the war, but from feeling responsible for Samuel's death, as well. By the time the film takes us into the 1920s, Tristan has (predictably) become a rather successful bootlegger of illegal alcohol, but not without the expected violence of the era. Violence begets violence and Tristan is a man very capable of it, whether he's avenging the death of his wife or coming face to face with a grizzly bear as a boy. In a rather strange case of irony, we learn by the film's end that Tristan has managed to outlive everyone that he's ever known and loved, despite the prediction by the wise Indian "One Stab" that he would likely die young. It's also incredibly ironic and rather poignant that Tristan dies an old man by the hands of a Montana grizzly bear, particularly after all the violence and combat he's experienced in his life. Is it the same bear he survived as boy? I'd like to think so. It just seems so fitting. It's also "a good death".

LEGENDS OF THE FALL is a film of full-blooded performances and heartfelt melodrama. Though it's a story of many lives through many tragedies, it's clearly Brad Pitt that carries the film and nearly steals every scene, propelling him into the movie stardom of his career that was still only just a few years old at the time. Juilia Ormond, though an impressive actess in general, is less impressive in her character, in my opinion. Susannah is a woman who's managed to inadvertently wreck the lives of these men and the entire Ludlow family. Through it all, she loves only Tristan and seems determined to live a life of misery because of it. Shit, we've all been heartbroken by others, but we manage to get through it and move on happily...if we're strong enough. Susannah is not strong enough, not even a little bit, and finally takes her own life in the end. I suppose endless tragedy could be considered the ultimate role for any good actor. If that's the case, then I suppose Julia Ormond nails it. And while this film has much to offer as an epic drama, for me it's the spectacular cinematography of Montan's beauty that keeps me awe-struck every time I watch it!

Favorite line or dialogue:

Alfred Ludlow: "When are you planning to be married?"
Tristan Ludlow: "Morning."
Alfred: "Damn you, Tristan! You will marry her!"
Tristan: "And make a honest woman out of her?"
Alfred: "YES! God damn you to hell!"
Tristan: "Yes, I will marry her if she'll have me."
Alfred: "If she'll have you? Do you love her? Or did you seduce her just to spite me?"
Tristan: "It's not what I did."
Alfred: "And what about Samuel?"
Tristan: "What about Samuel?"
Alfred: "You tell me about Samuel."
Tristan: "We all loved Samuel. Samuel's dead. What?"
Alfred: "How convenient that is for you."
Tristan: "Because you love her I will forgive you for that! Once! You say that again and we're not brothers!"

Like I said, no one can piss you off like a brother can!

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