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Legends of the Fall (1994)

Film review: Legends of the Fall (1994), directed by Edward Zwick

Some movies I’ve already seen, but when I see them coming up on TV, I record them to re-watch. Don’t remember if I’ve seen Legends of the Fall once or twice previously, but apparently I can still remember bits of it, such as “isn’t this where he goes apeshit and scalps the enemy?” (Yes. Yes, it is.)

The plot centres around a family somewhere in the US, starting around 1910. There’s the patriarch (Anthony Hopkins) – his wife decided to move to the city, as a country life was not for her – and three sons: Alfred (Aidan Quinn), Samuel (Henry Thomas) and Tristan (Brad Pitt). Alfred is sensible and has a head for business, Samuel is well-educated and Tristan is the wild child who does his own thing, has a good hand with animals and hangs out with the local Native Americans a lot.

Roll on a few years and Samuel brings home his fiancé Susannah (Julia Ormond). Alfred falls for her, while she quickly develops a soft spot for Tristan, because Tristan is essentially sex on two legs. Before Samuel and Susannah can get married, war breaks out in Europe and the three brothers feel compelled to enlist – or at least Samuel does and the others follow suit to keep an eye on each other.

Three sons go to war, only two return. And the rest is a lot of love-triangley, relationshippy, post-war stuff. It’s not a very happy story. Lots of tragedy and you think you know how it’s going to pan out and it turns out that actually, you’re wrong. Somehow, though, it doesn’t get boring. The beautiful scenery alone has me keenly interested.

This time around, though, I couldn’t help but feel like this film was made for the basic purpose of cashing in on Brad Pitt being hot and having a big fanbase. He’s a good actor, and he’s terrific, but I still get the feeling that the film is there for providing eye candy to enthralled Pitt-fans. Not necessarily a bad thing, because even though it was made during the phase where everyone swooned over Brad Pitt (and so therefore – by principle – I refused to), it’s a good film. Can’t say that it’s heartwarming, because Tristan is a bit of a dick, which Susannah only realises years later. Alfred is technically a bit of a dick too, but at least he’s dependable and doesn’t go off in an emo-huff lasting a few years.

The beautiful Karina Lombard plays the adult Isabel Two, the half-“white” half Native American girl who grows up with her parents (mother played by Tantoo Cardinal) on the same farm as the boys. Lombard played Antoinette Cosway (read: Bertha Mason) in the 1993 adaptation of Wide Sargasso Sea, so there’s your six degrees of Jane Eyre.

Legends of the Fall is narrated by One Stab (Gordon Tootoosis), a Native American man. His talk of Tristan and the spirit of the bear gives a spiritual edge which I find incredibly appealing. The words at the end of the film would’ve had me in tears if I had been watching it alone. As it happened, I had my dad on one side and husband on the other, as both of them were attracted to the TV when they heard guns and cannons go off – the scenes from the World War I trenches. I had decided to put on a film while working on a big butternut squash as they’re incredibly time-consuming if you’re wanting to cut one up into small cubes, so I thought a film I had seen before would be good, as then it wouldn’t matter if I didn’t watch the screen the entire time. Oh the landscapes I must’ve missed out on!

Anyway. This is a good film. Parts of it might feel a little slow but it’s emotionally engaging from beginning to end, even if it’s not ever a “happily ever after” affair. Brad Pitt and Julia Ormond are gorgeous, Anthony Hopkins is fantastic (when is he not?) and Aidan Quinn is fab. Which reminds me, I had the brainwave of Pitt “looking American”, while Quinn … doesn’t. Quinn looks more Irish or British, but his parents are Irish, so there you go. Handsome devil, nonetheless. (Note to self: re-watch Michael Collins. And The Wind That Shakes the Barley, for that matter. You know you want to.)

4 out of 5 broken hearts.

Traxy Thornfield

A Swedish introvert residing in Robin Hood Country (Nottingham, UK) with a husband and two cats. She's an eager participant in tabletop and play-by-post roleplaying, woodworking, photography and European travel, when there's not a plague on. Might get a novel out one of these days, if she doesn't get too distracted along the way.

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