Sunday 18 February 2007

Legends of the Fall (1994) Edward Zwick

It's obvious within about ten seconds of this film that the Oscar it won for cinematography was justified. It looks gorgeous, a masterpiece of composition and John Toll should be proud of his achievement. However there's much more here. It's a western that follows the lives of Colonel William Ludlow and his sons. Tristran is the wild one, played by Brad Pitt launching his career into the stratosphere after Johnny Depp turned the part down. Aidan Quinn plays Alfred, the one with, as is mentioned, more breeding, who lives with them in Montana. The third is Samuel, played by Henry Thomas, who arrives from civilisation with his fiancee Susannah who is the catalyst for the entire plot as all three of them fall for her. As she's ably portrayed by Julia Ormond, who is no great beauty but has a serious beauty within her, that's hardly surprising.

Mother, a long way away back in England, is Christina Pickles, and father is no less a talent than Sir Anthony Hopkins, from the period of time when he was in full possession of his considerable powers but didn't deliberately flaunt them unashamedly. These are happily still the days of The Silence of the Lambs, not Hannibal. He is excellent and gets plenty of opportunities to show it.

Brad Pitt is also excellent. He's rough and ready, long haired, happy to fight and not afraid to get himself either dirty or not clean again. His manners are not good and he both knows it and doesn't particularly care. While the others talk of world affairs, he's the one who understands how the world works, or at least his small part of it. He's not uneducated, he's certainly not stupid and in many ways he sees things better than they do: he just has his feet planted firmer on the ground. However as is made very obvious this is the point at which the world is changing, not just back in Europe where the Germans are stirring everything up, but even here in Montana. When they pick up Julia from the train, they head back to the farm in a mixture of cars and horses. They talk of culture while Tristran meets them with a dead deer over his other horse. It's a very changing world.

All three get to see this changing world, when Alfred and Samuel head off to fight in the First World War, and Tristran goes with them, not for any sense of duty like the others, but to keep his brothers safe. He gets the great showstopping scenes as he becomes something that his colleagues and his family don't understand. In many ways he goes native but it takes strange forms as he quests around the world to find his way back. The story is superb and the film continues to look gorgeous throughout, but the sweeping and majestic music by James Horner is astoundingly overdone, to my tastes, and it unfairly diminishes the visuals. If I watch it again, I may just turn the sound off. It was that annoying.

I had other problems with it too. Everyone gets older as the years pass, especially and memorably Anthony Hopkins and young Isabel Two, who grows up from a child to an adult, but Brad Pitt never seems to age. He grows hair on his head and his face but never his chest, wherever he happens to be in the world, and stays as young as he was to start with. Maybe that's a deliberate thing to highlight how much he's a legend, as legends don't grow old. The introduction points out that: 'Some people hear their own inner voices with great clearness and they live by what they hear. Such people become crazy, or they become legends.' It's talking about Tristran and we get to make our minds up which he becomes as the film rolls on. That's the chief triumph of many.

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