Most of us are familiar with the life changing impact which time has on people. Most of us are familiar with the dangers of love triangles. How about love squares? This is effectively the starting point for Legends of the Fall, a movie so jam packed with clichéd stereotypes but interesting enough to send viewers through time into a generation where racism, war and wild landscapes rule the day.
An Indian narrator named One Stab recants a story about a young family. There is a Colonel father (Anthony Hopkins), a kindly mother (Christina Pickles) and three young boys. Tired of the government’s poor treatment towards Native Indians, Colonel Ludlow retires to the Montana Mountains, buying up a large ranch estate for his family to live one, along with One Stab and a hired hand (and his family). The mother moves back east after failing to adapt to the long, cold winters but everyone else stays on. We get a quick fire sequence of the boys growing up and begin to see three distinct personalities come through. Alfred (Aidan Quinn) is the consistent, reliable put your head down worker. Samuel (Henry Thomas) is the book smart, street naive younger brother. Then there’s Tristan (Brad Pitt), the adventurous brother, trained in the ways of the Indians.
It’s quite a bit to take in for the first 10 minutes of a film. So when Samuel steps off the train with his fiancée Susannah (Julia Ormond) things suddenly become a lot more interesting. A love square develops. All three brothers fall in love with Susannah but her loyalty and devotion is to the youngest brother.
Turning point one was the war. Samuel joins the army to fight in the war and to the shock of everyone, Tristan and Alfred join then. Whoever invented that ridiculous phrase “a good war” ought to be ashamed; there is no such thing as a good war. Every single time one takes place both sides lose their finest young men in casualties which easily could have been avoided. Here is no different. Alfred is wounded in battle and Samuel is killed on a reconnaissance mission behind enemy lines. Tristan, in vengeance slaughters a slew of German soldiers, resulting in his discharge.
Much like the highly overrated Hobbit franchise, Legends of the Fall lacks the consistently engaging material needed to justify such a long run time. But unlike The Hobbit it could have worked quite nicely as a three part film or even a television series. Part one ends with the two brothers returning home, mourning over the loss of Samuel. So begins part two Alfred asks for Susannah’s hand in marriage but she declines, instead opting to be Tristan’s lover.
One can’t help but feel sorry for poor Alfred. He is very closely aligned with a “nice guy” mentality, doing all the right things but unable to get the girl. Tristan meanwhile has a “bad boy” air to him which does get the girl. It was readily reassuring to see that psychologically some things never change.
Nor do the consistent acting performances, which are absolutely brilliant from every lead character. Brad Pitt is fantastic. Despite playing a character suffering from a stroke for half the movie, Anthony Hopkins does a superlative job of centring the attention in on himself. I don’t know much about the other actors or actresses backgrounds but they all chipped in well here.
Part two sees Albert moving to Helena to establish himself and Tristan travelling the world, leaving Susannah behind. The eldest brother achieves huge success, while the dark horse travels through New Guinea among other remote parts of planet earth. This portion of the film was by far the most intriguing but the pity was so much background which could have been elaborated on wasn’t. John Toll’s brilliant cinematography in these scenes allowed some excitement to be held onto, with sweeping shots of Montana’s mountains or New Guinea’s coastline, even Susannah’s despondent deathly look. When Tristan finally writes to her… well take a guess at what he says.
Part three sees a lot happening. This high class operatic will crescendo into full intensity. A lot happens especially an all important moment where happiness prevails. In essence the third part of the film is not as emotionally packed or charged with testosterone as parts one and two. Each characters course of action is played out simply.
Legends of the Fall is a timely throwback to an era when Hollywood created systematic high intensity, emotionally charged dramas where reality was simply left to run its course. I hope to read Jim Harrison’s novella on which the film is based and hope to find that it really is “a force of nature” like the film’s adaptation is.