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Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall

I’ve read lots of reviews that go ahead and dismiss Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall as just another schmaltzy post civil war melodrama like Hollywood used to do a lot in the golden age, and this film is certainly reinforced by and reminiscent of that aesthetic but to say it’s just hollow romantic fluff with good scenery is to miss out on real darkness, complex human characters and a deep, tragedy soaked narrative that is quite a bit more ruthless and unforgiving towards its characters than this type of gorgeous big budget historical piece usually is. The setting is Montana (filmed in Alberta though, because those Yanks can’t let our superior Canadian scenery speak for itself) sometime before the start of World War 1. Ex Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) lives a peaceful life on a sprawling ranch with his three sons, Tristan (Brad Pitt), Alfred (Aiden Quinn) and Samuel (Henry Thomas). The Colonel is a fiercely antiwar fellow having seen more than his fair share of combat and wishes to shield his sons from the horrors of war, but Samuel incites the other two with his idealistic nature and soon the trio is off to France to play in the trenches. This and the complex relationship the entire family has with Samuel’s fiancée Susannah (Julia Ormond) maps out a tangled web of malcontent, shifting romances and uneasy relationships as war, tragedy and crime make their mark on changing landscapes both physical and mental within this clan. Brad Pitt’s Tristan is the lynchpin of the story, an untamed halfbreed who has a good soul but seems to be a magnet for darkness and destruction, a nature that follows him no matter where he goes in the world, or who he loves. Quinn makes stately, resentful work of Alfred, Thomas is the baby-faced kid of the family who Tristan fiercely tries to protect in wartime scenes that depict harrowing, elemental carnage. Hopkins’ Ludlow has a warrior’s heart that has long since turned to peace with the wilderness and his family around him, until times get tough again. Ormond is quiet, dignified and heartbreaking as a girl who starts off the film having lost her own family and unfortunately is headed towards the same gauntlet with the Ludlows. The supporting cast is composed of excellent work from Tantoo Cardinal, Karina Lombard, Kenneth Welsh, Bill Dow, Gordon Tootisis, John Novak, Paul Desmond and Bart the Bear. I’ll listen to any arguments saying this movie is Hollywood melodrama and be in a modicum of agreement but that doesn’t make it bereft of substance, spirit or vitality. The characters are all immensely well drawn, starting with Hopkins’s patriarch who has seen what his former cavalry did to the indigenous tribes and has tried to purge that trauma from his being by spending the rest of his life being kind. Pitt’s Tristan is a supernova of the plains, the kind of character who makes an entrance followed by a literal flock of wild mustangs and it doesn’t even come across as silly because the film is so earnest. James Horner contributes a swelling orchestral score that is every bit as majestic as the jaw dropping cinematography and emotional as the narrative beats. Zwick did a small handful of these big sky, super emotional historical epics in his heyday including Glory, The Last Samurai and Blood Diamond, but this has to be my favourite. It’s such a potent, full blooded film and looks just spectacular on Blu Ray.

-Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall: A Review By Nate Hill

Edward Zwick’s Legends Of The Fall is sweeping Hollywood grandeur at its finest. It’s a raging typhoon, one part family high drama, one part war film, wrapped in a nostalgic, old world romance that hearkens back to the golden age of cinema. It’s an epic as only the pictures can show us, blowing a gust of storytelling wind at us and depositing us on the endless plains of the 1900’s, in the monumental Rocky Mountains of Montana. The story focuses on Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins, gnarled nobility incarnate), living with his three sons in the desolation of an old world making way for a new, as the four of them deal with love, loss, war, nature and interpersonal conflict in a story that plumbs the chasms of human nature and spits out characters that bleed raw feeling, reach out to one another in the clamour of a nation only just being formed (like the land itself), and clash in tragic harmony, spanning years in their lives and showing us desperation, grief and brotherhood. Brad Pitt, in the fiercest performance I’ve ever seen him muster, plays Tristan, Ludlow’s half Native son with a wild streak a mile long and a kinship with the tangled wilderness he calls home. Aiden Quinn plays the middle brother Alfred, a reserved, analytical type. When their younger brother Samuel (Henry Thomas), arrives home with his beautiful fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond) sparks fly between her and Tristan, and an immediate rift is formed in the family that Ormond sees all too well, but cannot deny her love for Pitt. Samuel is a fragile, easily traumatized man, and when the boys are driven from their lands to fight in the war, it dampens his soul with a ruining force of horror that leaves him scarred forever. Tristan, being almost animalistic at heart, sinks into the carnage of combat with the keen resilience of a wolf, and is transformed in a different fashion. This to me is the penultimate sequence of the film, as it strays from the picturesque grandeur of their life before, removed from the world of conflict, into the sheer reality that befalls a country in formation, representing a loss of innocence so to speak. Neither of them are the same after that, and the cracks in their brotherhood only etch further after tragedy befalls Susannah, blackening their idealistic home life as well and tainting the memory with aching sadness. Tristan tries to move on, either to wrap the hurt in a cloak of new events, or because his instinctual nature spurs him on, but he almost seems to be cursed, and more hardships step into his path as well. I don’t want to deter you from seeing this by laying all this doom and gloom into my review, because it’s actually a very beautiful film to see unfolding, it just deals with incredibly tragic subject matter that will leave you breathless with tears, like Titanic, or Romeo & Juliet. Pitt.. What can I say. He’s outstanding, giving Tristan the fearsome gaze of a wounded animal, and the love struck longing that’s shot down by fate, turning him into a prisoner of his own ephemeral love for those who are taken from him. It’s my second favourite of his roles (it’s hard to top Twelve Monkeys) and he shines in it like a silver star over the Montana horizon. Montana itself basically screams to be pored over by a camera, and the cinematography will make you feel every gust of mountain air and gasp at the looming crags and sun dappled glades that leap out from your screen at you. It’s one of the last of a dying breed: the romantic epic. Like Titanic, or Gone With The Wind and Doctor Zhievago before it, it posses that untouchably bold quality that showcases emotion, tragic happenstance and deep longing all set in a breathtaking setting that is meant to move and astonish you. A classic.