Saturday, July 03, 2004



AMERICA. Here's our offering for the Fourth of July -- a reminder that the best movie yet made about the original American spirit of independence is Last of the Mohicans. I first saw it on an Alitalia jet bound for Milan and disdained the offer of earphones because I was convinced that Hollywood would pervert Cooper's tale into a manifesto about colonial abuse of "Native American" victims. The conviction lasted until the first battle scene, when the gorgeous cinematography and graphic violence showed me, without sound, that I was missing a stunningly dramatic movie. The flight attendant, who was gorgeous in her own right, responded with alacrity to my demand for earphones and I spent two hours in colonial America at 30,000 feet rapturously in love with the land of my birth, sadly mindful that I was presently leaving it at the speed of 600 mph.

Upon my return home, I discovered that Last of the Mohicans enjoys a distinction few other movies can aspire to. It is simultaneously a riveting actioner for men AND a four-star chick flick. There's something about that final desperate race to save the women, backed by roiling Celtic music and punctuated by savage violence, that makes women go weak in the knees just as their men are soaring to an adrenalin peak which makes the fingers itch for one chance to swing Chingachkook's mighty rifle-ax at the murderous Magua. I bought it on laser disk and showed it to the local Episcopal rector and his wife, who dragged him out the door as soon as the credits started to roll for a purpose she didn't bother to disguise. The movie is that good.

An important caution: never watch the edited-for-TV versions. The editing of the violence is so so ham-handed as to amount to vandalism, destroying the rhythm and power of almost every important scene. So my recommendation is to rent it on DVD as a special July 4 treat. You may find that even if you've seen it before, you'll be taken by its resonance with recent events. The hero is an American who cares nothing for politics but who chooses to risk his life repeatedly to protect the woman he loves. The villain is a heathen fanatic bent on revenge for a past that has killed his soul. The conflict is complicated by the machinations of blockheaded Brits and treacherous French aristocrats. There is a scene where the mutilated bodies of friends must be left unburied and disgraced because survival means adopting the ruthless tactics of the enemy. But savage fighting does not transform civilized men into savages, because their hearts still break at the sacrifice of innocents. Love triumphs in the principal love story between Nathanael (Daniel Day Lewis) and Cora (Madeleine Stowe, who never looked lovelier, before or since), but it reverberates even more poetically in the beautifully subtle romance between Uncas and Alice. It is her face which haunts you long after the movie is over, framed against the spectacular North Carolina wilderness of our ancestral land.


And then there is the scene in which Nathanael explains his distinctively American love of kin and country...

Do yourself this favor -- celebrate your independence with Last of the Mohicans. You can thank me Monday when InstaPunk returns to duty.

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