Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff (screenplay) and Jim Harrison (novella)
When this movie came out my dad was still manager of the Uptown in downtown D.C. and it was playing there on one of my trips to see him. The Uptown only had one screen and I was stuck watching this movie over and over again while spending days at work with my dad. I was ten years old at the time and in truth probably shouldn’t have been watching it at all but my dad was never one to pay attention to such things. On my prior trip to see him in D.C. Jurassic Park was the film playing at the Uptown and this absolutely failed in comparison. I still thought Jurassic Park was the coolest thing I had ever seen and sitting through this was unbearable at my age. I hated the movie then but one day found myself revisiting it at a much older age and liking it very much. It’s an incredible story of love and loss made by a man who has a knack for making really emotionally deep films.
This is without doubt a deeply emotional movie too. The story is told through the letters this family wrote back and forth to one another over a period of several years. The letters came from a collection from all different members of the family that were kept by One Stab, a Native American warrior who was very loyal to Colonel Ludlow. The letters are full of raw emotion. These people write about their pain and longing, they poured their hearts out in these letters and you can feel their emotions as if they were your own. This was a well written story and it is very moving but I think the man behind camera has the most to do with how effective it is in invoking such an emotional response from the audience. Edward Zwick has a knack for this kind of movie. I say that because I feel this movie so deeply. It opens up my soul and brings all the emotion in there up to the surface. I have a very similar feeling when I watch one of Zwick’s other films, The Last Samurai. The guy makes very beautiful films and does a great job of getting his audience emotionally invested in his movies. One of the things I love most about movies is when they get me like this, when they make me feel things right down to the core and get an emotional response from me. I’m not an overly emotional person, but when it comes to movies my tears will fall. This movie brings the tears out of me too; I feel the pain and loss of these people on such an emotional level that I love them for it.
I have always taken one specific lesson from this movie above all others. Women can be so dangerous and destructive. When Susannah Fincannon is brought to the Ludlow ranch she is just trouble waiting to happen, and as time goes on she single handedly tears this family apart. She came engaged to Samuel, but the moment Alfred laid eyes on her he was in love with her, and in turn from the moment Susannah laid eyes on Tristan she was in love with him. Samuel was a young and impressionable man, it was Susannah who encouraged him to be passionate about things and that is ultimately led him to join the fight in WWI. Samuel never really had a chance though, even if he hadn’t died in the war there is no telling what may have happened when he came home. When Susannah met Isabel Two for the first time and the girl told her she is going to grow up and marry Tristan Susannah actually looked jealous, she already wanted him for herself despite who she was there with. She couldn’t even wait till Samuel left for the war before falling into Tristan’s arms and nearly getting caught up in the moment. Letting Alfred catch them together like that didn’t make things much better. That moment started the hate that would brew between those two brothers and Alfred is so dumbstruck in love he can’t see the writing on the wall. He wasted no time after he returned from the war before snaking in on his brother’s woman, proposing to her at Samuel’s grave no less. A shameful and pathetic thing to do so soon after his death. Despite his efforts he never had a chance; she wanted Tristan all along and wasted no time herself going after him when he came back. Making her move at the exact same grave site that Alfred made his pathetic attempt to marry her. Tristan wasn’t right when he came back though and that was plain for everyone to see. She ignores the obvious though and pursues her lust driven desires for a man who is clearly a little insane. When they are in that bath together she is blathering on and on about babies while he just stares off into space with the look of a man completely and utterly insane. Even after Tristan pulls a knife on her in bed and looks ready to kill her she still waits on him. What is it she even sees in this psycho anyway? When Tristan more or less tells her to get lost she finally settles for Alfred who is more than happy to continue being pathetic. Alfred was foolish though because for whatever reason she just can’t get over Tristan. Years later when she sees Tristan finally settled down with Isabel Two and living the life she wanted she nearly loses it. After her last final effort to pursue Tristan fails she just can’t take it anymore and ends it all with a bullet to the head, but it is too late then. The damage to the Ludlow family was already done. Even if they sort of came back together in the end they will all still bear the scars from so much tragedy. Had Samuel came home alone their entire lives might have been different. Maybe the three brothers don’t ride off to war, Samuel lives, Alfred and Tristan never grow to hate one another, and it goes on and on. Women can be very dangerous, and men can be very stupid when they are around one like Susannah Vincannon.
I had an Uncle once who was a lot like Tristan and the character had always been more endeared to me because of him. He was a really cool Uncle who always inspired love from everyone despite being the type of person that does selfish and inconsiderate things. Tristan could do no wrong in the eyes of certain family members and they were willing to forgive him every trespass. My Uncle was also one to take off for long stretches of time with no consideration for those he left behind who loved him yet the love was always there when he returned no matter how long he was gone or for what reason. It’s an interesting character dynamic, sadly though the character in real life doesn’t always straighten himself out and the scars he can leave behind still run deep. Tristan was an awesome character though and I still like him in this movie. He goes completely crazy and never fully escapes the haunting feelings of failure over Samuel’s death. The scene in which he cuts his brothers heart out is so intense; the anguish in his voice as he curses God is incredible. It’s a testament to the acting ability Brad Pitt has. I have always been a fan of Pitt but he has had his ups and downs over the years. I had nearly written him off until he played the part of Aldo Raine in Inglourious Basterds, and I am interested to see his newest picture World War Z. I read the book and it was incredible, but I’m really not sure how it would work as a film because of how the story is set up. Still it looks good and I can’t wait for the chance to see it.
This movie sports a great cast who most of which turned in very profound and incredible performances. I have always been a big fan of Anthony Hopkins; he has had a long and distinguishing career. To me growing up he always represented what a man should be in his later years, not in the role of Hannibal Lecture mind you but in plenty of his other work. He carries himself with an air of dignity that simply demands respect in nearly every role that he played throughout the 90s. In this movie he doesn’t play the most likable character yet I like him all the same because he seemed appropriate to me. Colonel Ludlow is a man who knows what he is talking about yet nobody will listen. His sons are foolish in his eyes with the exception of Tristan, most of the time. He knows what they are getting themselves into when they want to go to war but they don’t listen to him. He knows what Alfred is getting himself into by running for office but Alfred is too proud to see it himself. Colonel Ludlow is rough around the edges but he is a strong and powerful man just eaten up with disappointment. He carries hatred in his heart from his days in the service, he has a wife that he loves but won’t stay with him, and he has three boys who he never quite knows what to make of. I have always thought he was a great character and feel disappointed every time I see the film when he has that stroke. It’s an awful thing to see such a man defeated by his body and forces out of his control. Yet despite the disability he develops he is still a proud man and not afraid of doing what needs to be done in the end.
Another powerful performance in this film came from Aidan Quinn in the part of Alfred Ludlow. Quinn has never had what anybody would call a significant career but he really brought it in this movie. Alfred is such an interesting character even though he is the pathetic brother. He is such a smart and capable man yet so foolish with his hopeless obsession with Susannah. He may be misguided and thinking with the wrong head most of the time but you have to give the man props for having the balls to stand up to his father. In the scene where Colonel Ludlow gets in his face I think people in the audience were likely to flinch at the anger coming off the man but Alfred didn’t. I also liked Henry Thomas in the part of the youngest brother Samuel. Samuel was young and innocent, a part “EL-I-OT” pulls off very well. In truth, from what I have seen it may be the only part the guy is capable of. Even as a minor gangster in Gangs of New York he still came across as young and innocent. Outside of playing Guinevere in First Knight (another role in which she plays a really destructive woman) I have never seen Julia Ormond in another movie. Despite what I think about the character she plays in this movie I still think she did a great job with the part.
In my youth this is a movie I never thought I would feel so strongly about but I grew to love it at an older age. I always appreciate a movie more when it grows on me this way and this one did without doubt. It’s such a gripping and powerful film that reaches right into my soul and pulls all kinds of emotions to the surface. Some have made suggestions to me that this is a chick flick but I always dismiss them. There is so much to this movie that raises it far above that category of film and those guys just can’t look deep enough to see it. This is a great movie and all great movies are worth your time to see.
This movie will make you cry, and then ball, and then cry some more. I don’t care how many times I watch this film it makes me sad. I don’t even think you feel uplifted at the end either. It is all tragedy and sadness brought on my one single, slutty, horrible excuse for a woman. Brad Pitt looks gorgeous as always, and that might be the happiest part of this entire movie.
Oh c’mon people! This poster would be great if they would have just left out the damn floating heads. Guess what! Brad Pitt and Anthony Hopkins are famous enough that their names are all we need. And how much more intrigue would there be if they would have just let it fade to a dark color and let the image at the bottom speak for itself. You would probably be wondering a lot more about what this movie is actually about instead of who is in it. I like the typography. It fits together nicely and is positioned well, and I think it has almost become an iconic looking movie title. This is a mediocre poster that could have been great.
NEXT MOVIE: Les Miserables (2012)