• It is remarkable how well Michael Mann made the transition from high art contemporary urban crime films (Thief, Manhunter) to historical action epic. Whatever genre or subgenre you classify The Last of the Mohicans as, it undoubtedly, is one of that genre’s finest.
  • Mann and his go-to (Manhunter, Heat, The Insider) cinematographer Dante Spinotti chose to use natural light for an extremely high percentage of the photography. Especially since large portions are shot at night, this gives the film a lot of rich golden colors and browns. The Fort William Henry scenes (amazing set piece- Oscar winner best sound and this supposedly cost millions to build) is largely at night, the opening is at night with a fireplace as the key light.

At the 8-minute mark Mann does a Kubrick-worthy Barry Lyndon The British are crossing the bridge and Mann cuts the frame in half with the reflection on the underside.

a dazzler of a shot — like Melville and others before him, Mann puts high art sensibilities into genres rarely get this type of treatment


  • Set off the Hudson, Mann chose to shoot this in North Carolina instead among the Blue Ridge Mountains and other areas – a fantastic choice judging from the results.
  • Decades later, Daniel Day-Lewis’ work as Hawkeye/Nathaniel gets most of the study from 1992’s The Last of the Mohicans. He brought method to a new level by getting into character for months. DDL is marvelous here- he is a more than convincing action hero (the work he put in must have paid off because every motion seems natural) and romantic lead, It also helps fill out Day Lewis’ resume (without it I can see some of us wondering if he could ever pull off an action Russell Crowe in Gladiator type role—and he doesn’t do romance that often either for that matter). Madeline Stowe is perfect as Cora Munro– just about DDL’s equal. Russell Means (the title is his) is Chingachgook and Wes Studi takes his impressive turn in 1990’s Dances With Wolves to the next level here. Studi is Magua—a Huron warrior with a backstory. Magua is a worthy foe- Mann requires magnitude for his grand depiction of good and evil (and this is certainly a more complex character and role/performance than Manhunter or Thief).

an arrangement worthy of Visconti with the blocking at different depths of field

  • The score has two themes that may are both sublime. There is the main theme by Randy Edelman (worked on 1993’s Gettysburg which also has a great score but outside of that never hit these highs again) and “the gael” theme written by Dougie Maclean and arranged by Trevor Jones. This jig captures the final ten minutes of the film (which film’s finest sequence). It is impossible to picture The Last of the Mohicans without this theme.
  • DDL’s famous “Stay live… I will find you”

symmetry and careful arrangement

A strong composition at the surrender of Fort William Henry at the 63-minute mark— again, Mann evoking a cinematic painting worthy of Barry Lyndon.

The enchanting waterfall set piece at the 83-minute mark – seems to have inspired Wes Anderson for Fantastic Mr. Fox (2009).

  • Just like all of Mann’s films, the story surrounds the depiction of an independently minded hero, and there is a climatic battle between good and evil (often in slow-motion). And again, here, it is not DDL’s Hawkeye that gets that showdown (the gorgeous wide shot at the 105-minute mark). It does not check all of the Michael Mann boxes of course- this is obviously not a slick urban western like most of Mann’s oeuvre.

Mann’s finest work to date in 1992

Mann is not done after the climax, before bookend the film with the landscape shot of the mountains, he has the three survivors of this film in profile – perfectly blocking each other.

  • A Must-See / Masterpiece border film