Legends of the Fall
Distributed by: TriStar Pictures
Reviewed by Melissa Minners
Have you ever seen the last half hour of a movie and been intrigued enough to want to see the rest? That's what happened years ago when I first caught a glimpse of Legends of the Fall. Problem was, every time I tried to catch this movie, I would always come in some time in the middle, never seeing the movie from beginning to end. I decided to buy it on DVD so I could watch the film at my own leisure.
Based on a novella by Jim Harrison, Legends of the Fall follows the members of the Ludlow family. Narrated by One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis), Cree Indian and longtime friend of the family, the story really centers on the middle son, Tristan (Brad Pitt), a young man with a troubled soul. The movie is told around a series of letters and begins with Colonel William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins), who retires from the United States Army after becoming disenchanted by the constant betrayals and murders of the Native American people. He settles down on a piece of land in Montana with his wife, Isabel (Christina Pickles), One Stab and, with the help of hired hand Decker (Paul Desmond) and his wife, Pet (Tantoo Cardinal), they build a thriving ranch.
Before the harsh winters of Montana drive Isabel to move to the East Coast, she bears the Colonel three sons. The oldest is Alfred (Aidan Quinn), a responsible man by nature who can tend to be overly cautious. The middle son, Tristan, is wild and dedicated to the Native American ways of doing things. Youngest son, Samuel (Henry Thomas) is educated, but naive. Samuel is doted on by his older brothers who constantly seek to protect him from the perils of the outside world.
When Samuel returns from Harvard with his fiancée, Susannah Fincannon (Julia Ormond), a girl who has undergone hardship but has become an intelligent and loving woman despite it all, the Ludlow family immediately falls in love. Who could know that this woman would come close to destroying the Ludlow family altogether? Despite the attention shown her by all of the Ludlow men, it is only when Samuel and Alfred announce that, against their father's wishes, they are going to Canada to enlist so that they can fight in the first World War, we begin to see the chinks in the family's honor.
Alfred witnesses something take place between Susannah and Tristan that he misinterprets and he takes that with him throughout the war, a resentment towards his brother that becomes all the more bitter after he learns of his brother's death. Tristan, charged by his father to protect Samuel, also enlists, but is unable to save Samuel. His death and Tristan's inability to prevent it haunts Tristan for the rest of his life.
Attempting to build a life after the war, Tristan finds that he can't seem to find happiness. He feels guilty about being with his brother's former fiancée, having never shaken himself of the guilt over his brother's death. Alfred also blames Tristan for the death of Samuel and the ill feelings surrounding the youngest son's death and the woman he was supposed to marry threaten to tear the Ludlow family apart. Can the surviving members of the family ever unite and find happiness in each other again? Or are they destined to go their separate ways, loathing each other for something that wasn't anyone's fault?
Now that I have seen Legends of the Fall from beginning to end, I find myself quite satisfied at how things turned out. Of course, I blame the destruction of the Ludlow family and the hardship they endure during and after World War I on Susannah. Through no intention of her own, this character drives a wedge between the brothers of what was once a very tight knit frontier family. Thus, I was not overly upset at what eventually happens to her, though I think that the creators of this film could have elaborated more on her state of mind prior to Susannah achieving her final destiny. A bit more of her past could have been elaborated on...perhaps certain events taking place after her marriage to Alfred?
Instead, the movie concentrates on Tristan's battle with his inner demons and that is quite a dramatic battle. This is one of Brad Pitt's earlier roles and I found he was more than up to the challenge, presenting us with a character that we could easily love and hate depending on his actions, yet still never abandon, such is his charismatic nature. We root for a better life for Tristan, knowing it isn't in the cards. Although I find Aidan Quinn to be very easy on the eyes, his character in this film is quite annoying...a whiner to say the least and someone who, despite his apparent intelligence, has learned nothing from his father's own history.
What I found most surprising is my feelings toward Anthony Hopkins in this film. I'm not a Hopkins fan. I concede that he is a terrific actor, just not someone I like very much for some reason. Yet, in his role as Colonel Ludlow, I found I truly enjoyed Hopkins for the first time in all of my movie-watching years. There was a hint of humor under the hard exterior that I enjoyed, a twinkle in the eye that belied a playfulness of character in the Colonel that I believe Hopkins added to the role. For that, I must offer great praise.
The story of Legends of the Fall is an epic adventure of love, hardship, anguish and redemption and I found it captivating. The beauty of the cinematography, the believability of the scenic locales, the larger than life character of Tristan and his vulnerable nature underneath it all...these are all things that movie-goers want to see in a film. Add to that an intriguing story and this is the formula for a perfect movie. Sure, some of the highs and lows of Tristan's story are a bit farfetched, but that is the stuff that legends are made of and in the end, this is a movie about the legendary tale of Tristan Ludlow, a man who never could never seem to find an inner peace and was always looking for a new way to silence his demons.