In 1757, North America is the battleground of the colonial powers of Britain and France. Midst the escalating conflict, three trappers from a nearly extinct Native Indian tribe protect the daughters of a British Colonel.
OSCAR winner for Best Sound
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For his fourth theatrical effort, acclaimed director Michael Mann collaborated with Daniel Day-Lewis, an actor more infamous than himself for extensive research methods. Released in 1992, The Last of the Mohicans was a period action-adventure tonic that delighted film critics and movie audiences alike. To prepare for his leading role of Hawkeye, Day-Lewis lived in the wilderness; he hunted and fished for several months before shooting commenced on the eighth feature film adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper’s novel. Interestingly, Michael Mann never read the book; instead he used the screenplay of the 1936 version as his source material.
In order to get approval from Twentieth Century-Fox, Mann required the support of Joe Roth (Fox Chairman) and Roger Birnbaum (President of Worldwide Production). The filmmaker’s approach was simple and straightforward. “I'd acquired the rights to Philip Dunne's 1936 screenplay myself,” he explained, “had done a story outline based on it, and walked into their offices and basically said, 'Guys, I want to do Last of the Mohicans and I want to do it in a vivid, realistic way. They said 'Yeah, great idea.'”
For a cinematic storyteller known for portraying the cat and mouse game between criminals and law enforcement officers, a period movie where adversaries fire muskets rather than automatic weapons might seem out of place. “The project's attraction lies in making a passionate and vivid love story in a war zone,” remarked the director. “To make that period feel real means making dramatic forces out of the political forces of this time, which also fascinated me. The politics are functional to the storytelling, as is the visual style. I didn't want to take 1757, this story, and turn it into some kind of two-dimensional metaphor for 1991. What I did want to do was go the other way and take our understanding of those cultures - and I think we understand them better today than Cooper did in 1826 - and use our contemporary perspective as a tool to construct a more intense experience of realistically complex people in a complex time.”
As he went about producing the film, Michael Mann made an interesting discovery. “In researching the period I found that events in 1757 moved as fast as in 1968. And suddenly this period became as alive to me as, say, seven or eight years ago.” The moviemaker went on to add. “Ultimately, for me, it's about trying to make Hawkeye as real as if I was writing and directing a picture about a man who is alive today. The big encounter in the movie is between Hawkeye and Cora Munro, effectively a meeting of people from two different planets. It's a collision between the child of Scottish-Irish immigrants - people who were probably impoverished tenant farmers from the borderlands in the north of England - and a woman who thinks she's going to New England - almost an extension of Grosvenor Square - only to discover that this is a vast new continent, and that attitudinal changes and ideas are sweeping across it.”
There was a major creative issue which needed to be addressed. “The big challenge for me,” stated Mann, “was to work that Cora-Hawkeye story into a tapestry of a full-blown war, with three other conflicts going on at the same time. As it becomes a romance I hope the audience will track with the romance and want it to survive. This woman goes through a great change and so does Hawkeye, but for him it's a transformation from being a Mohican to becoming a frontiersman - a synthesis of the European and native cultures - which is a transformation from son to man. Chingachgook realizes this before Hawkeye does and talks to him about it at the end of the film.”