Edward Zwick

Legends of the Fall

Year: 1994
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: Susan Shilliday and William D. Wittliff (screenplay) and Jim Harrison (novella)

RYAN’S REVIEW

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.

AMBER’S REVIEW

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.

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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)

The Last Samurai

Year: 2003
Directed By: Edward Zwick
Written By: John Logan, Edward Zwick, and Marshall Herskovitz

RYAN’S REVIEW

For the second film in a row we have a movie about the last member of a dying culture, starring a white man.  The titles of the films and casting make great fodder for comedians but I do think both movies are great. When this film came out I specifically remember seeing Paul Mooney talking about this movie, his punchline was that he was going to make a movie called “The Last N**** on Earth” starring Tom Hanks.  In fact, with this movie much more than The Last of the Mohicans I hear people making jokes to that affect.  I think that has more to do with what people think about Tom Cruise than it does the actual movie though.  This is an epic movie and I am usually a fan of them when they offer such incredible battle scenes.  I love the portrayal of Japanese culture in this movie and love the specific time in history it covers. The invention of the gun changed warfare forever.  It was the end of the warrior and the ascension of the soldier.  There is a great History Channel special on the subject in the special features of the DVD. I think this film is a glowing example of what westernization can do to foreign cultures, and how in the end greed always wins no matter what is right.

I think Edward Zwick is a very talented director and specifically good at these period pieces.  I like his portrayal of other cultures and think he does an exceptional job of educating his viewers about them. I for one am not overly familiar with Japanese culture but fell in love with this films portrayal of it and hope that it is accurate. I think the character of Nathan Algren has an incredible transition that I have always admired.  He is very much the American man. A good man in truth, but haunted by his experiences and flawed with arrogance.  He is proud, as any heroic American should be, but he has lost his way.  Living with this foreign culture he grows to appreciate and eventually love it. Learning to appreciate this unfamiliar culture he finds a way to live with himself again. He learns to believe in something and he learns that there is more to the world, it’s a realization that humbles him.  There is nothing more riveting to me personally than to see a character in a movie humbled and for that character to learn from the experience to go on and redeem himself. It’s an incredible thing really, and I think the Algren character does it as well as any I have ever seen.

I am and always have been a sucker for a great battle scene.  I sincerely think this movie offers some of the greatest I have ever seen.  Not only are there guns but there is plenty of sword fighting, and sword fighting is always cooler. The Samurai were cool in so many ways, but there is one thing nobody can ever take away from them and that is their bitchin armor.  These guys are scary looking and they are attacking with a dizzying array of weapons with a speed that is unbelievable.  It’s shameful how they are gunned down in the end.  It was a coward that stood behind that gun giving the order.  A coward that sat on a pile of money and was motivated by greed more than anything else.  Not even half the man that any one of those riding after him were but it didn’t matter with the kind of weapons he had at his disposal.  He may be shamed in the end but he still won. and his winning cost the lives of so many incredible people.  He does lose when all is said in done, but only after winning and taking far too much in doing so. As much as what happened sucked, there really is nothing more heroic or powerful then seeing men ride to their death.  Knowing there is no hope but choosing to go anyway because you believe in something so greatly; it’s an inspiring thing to watch. It’s even more inspiring to see the Japanese soldiers bow down to them in the end.  These men were part of their heritage but they had become blinded and done something unspeakable in the name of expansion.  Their show of respect in the end is very moving.  It is a great way to cap one of the best battle scenes I have ever seen.

I think the character of Nathan Algren was incredible and very well written.  I think there are probably many great actors who could have pulled off the role with varying differences.  Yet Tom Cruise played the part and he did an incredible job.  I have said time and time again that I am no fan of Cruise but I thought he gave an incredible performance in this film. I think it is a bit much that Tom Cruise is the man to change Japan in the end of the movie but what are you gonna do? Sometimes you have to accept something ridiculous in light of so much that was great.  Ken Watanabe is really the greatest actor of the film.  I think Watanabe has been great in everything I have seen him in, he has a great voice and pulls off badass really easily.  As Katsumoto he was incredible and I think he was robbed of the Academy Award that year.  He was nominated but lost to Tim Robbins for his performance in Mystic River. It’s a shame but regardless I think his performance was one to remember.

This is a movie that I felt I learned from and it has lesson I do my very best to carry with me everyday.  The lesson I take from it is to not judge other cultures.  We see the Americans in this movie completely disregard the Samurai, referring to them as savages with bows and arrows.  Yet there is so much more to these people than meets the passing eye of an arrogant nation.  Algren learns that because he had no other choice but to take the time to do so.  Had Algren not been captured he might have just as easily continued seeing them as savage people but when he is held in captivity he has nothing to do but study the people holding him.  I think we all have the capacity to judge people we don’t understand in this way and far too often we fall victim to that judgement.  We won’t all have the opportunity to see what Algren saw beneath the surface, but we should all be aware that there is always more than meets the eye.  Foreign cultures always seem confusing and aloof to people who don’t know any better and too often those people have no interest in knowing any better.  I think the kind of arrogance that leads people to be judgmental is shameful.  I do my very best at all times not to be that kind of person and this is one of the many movies that taught me that. Another lesson, one I’ve also taken from several movies, is the danger and shameful nature of arrogance.  We all fall victim to it now and again but it does us no good in any facet of life.

This movie can be easily dismissed because the title and leading star can make it seem ridiculous but I am telling now that isn’t the case here.  This is a rich and beautiful movie with plenty to appreciate about it.  I love this movie as I love any movie I feel I learn from. Aside from all of that is the great action the movie has to offer, the battle in the end is epic and emotionally moving.  Having said all of that I think this movie is without doubt worth your time to see it and I hope you enjoy it as much as I do.

AMBER’S REVIEW

O, yay. Another last of something that isn’t even the something. I think you guys know my stance on these types of movies already, and if you don’t please read The Last of the Mohicans. I am not going to go and elaborate again on how stupid it is to have a movie where a white guy is the last of something he can’t possibly be the last of. So sorry Tom Cruise…you can’t be the last samurai! You. are. from. New. York

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Oh my god. Are you serious? Let’s just kern the shit out of the top billing so it stretches across the entire top. And let’s be lazy as possible and just center the typography, and cheese it up by putting a chinese symbol behind it. I understand you have to put Tom Cruise on the front, and there isn’t anything wrong with it, but do you see my point? He can’t be the last samurai  GAH, SMH.

NEXT MOVIE: Layer Cake (2004)