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Legends of the Fall

September 9, 2014

Legends of the Fall (1994)
Director: Edward Zwick
Actors: Brad Pitt, Julia Ormond, Aidan Quinn

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Synopsis: Colonel Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) relocates to the wilds of Montana with his three young sons. As those boys grow older, the fortunes of the family ebb and flow, caused in no small part by the young British woman, Susannah (Julia Ormond), who comes between them…

Review: What a magnificent piece of old tosh Legends of the Fall is! Playing extremely close to genius pastiche of the melodrama genre, you really do have to be a hardened soul not to relax into and enjoy the sheer unadulterated sweep/nonsense (take your pick) of this epic American drama.

And ‘American’ really is the prism through which to understand the film – for it really seems to be going ‘all guns blazing’ to create a grandiose American classic, from the gorging on the epic Montana landscape, to the drama being perpetually accompanied by James Horner’s obtrusive musical score, to the whistlestop tour through American history (Indian territorial wars, settling out West, American isolation, the tragedy of the First World War, the Prohibition years, general Native American folklore). There’s even a portentous, biblical, Cain and Abel-esque slant to the interaction between the three brothers, as each of them has their ill-fated dalliance with the cultured British woman who is conveniently shoe-horned into a position as permanent fixture in the Ludlow household.

If nothing else, Legends of the Fall is carried off with an unapologetic gusto that’s hard to deny. It’s well acted by its starry ensemble, and was a reminder of a time when the young, smouldering Brad Pitt was blazing a trail through Hollywood, when having Anthony Hopkins in your cast was a sure-fire way of fasttracking your production to an extra level of gravitas, and Julia Ormond had a brief stint as bankable A-list romantic lead actress. Admittedly, the film is easy to send up. Brad Pitt’s epically-posited hero gets not one, nor two, but three heroic, horse-riding returns to the family fold, and the clumsy way of tacking his character’s trajectory onto a Native American ‘spiritual’ subplot (he extracts the heart from everything dead he comes across, and he has a fated connection with a bear he came across in his youth) cannot help but appear a little hackneyed and patronising. (September 2014)

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