Legends of the Fall (1994) starring Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas, Karina Lombard, Tantoo Cardinal, Gordon Tootoosis directed by Edward Zwick Movie Review

Legends of the Fall (1994)   4/54/54/54/54/5

Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas and Brad Pitt in Legends of the Fall

Brad Suffers Brotherly Love

"Legends of the Fall" feels like it wants to be an epic saga, a melodrama which spans decades in the life of one family the Ludlow's, taking in the turmoil's, the fights, jealousy and romances which befall them. And for the most it succeeds as the various events and dramas which befall the Ludlow's are entertaining and captivating. Not only that but the cinematography, the stunning locations as well as the action and scenes of romance all aid in making "Legends of the Fall" a magnificent movie. Although it does have a little too much because in trying to make a grand family drama director Edward Zwick is prone to going one step too far and causing elements to border on the sentimentally saccharine rather than the stunning.

Having grown tired of fighting, Colonel Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins - The Silence of the Lambs) retires from the army to raise his sons in the wilds of Montana away from the politics which he had grown to hate. Whilst very different the Colonel's three boys Alfred (Aidan Quinn - Blink), Tristan (Brad Pitt - True Romance) and Samuel (Henry Thomas) are the best of friends that is until they grow up and Samuel returns from time in the city with Susannah (Julia Ormond - The Curious Case of Benjamin Button) his fiancee. Whilst Samuel maybe in love with Susannah it doesn't stop his brothers also having a fondness for this attractive woman especially when she appears to show a fondness towards Tristan. When the brothers head off to fight in the war, events lead to suspicion and jealousy between Alfred and Tristan which tears the once close brothers apart.

Anthony Hopkins and Julia Ormond in Legends of the Fall

In typical saga style "Legends of the Fall" doesn't really have a single storyline with a start and an end. Yes we are introduced to the Ludlow family, patriarch Col. Ludlow turning his back on military service and his 3 sons Alfred, Tristan and Samuel. But what follows on from this is introduction are a series of events in their lives most of which revolve around a woman, Susannah who enters and changes their lives. What is nice is these events, these chapters come across via narration from the Ludlow's loyal friend, Indian One Stab and the letters which the Ludlow's wrote to each other. To put it simply the story of the Ludlow's is built around these letters which One Stub has looked after, kept into his old age and uses to tell this epic story to his audience.

But as already mentioned these stories mainly revolve around Susannah and how her arrival affected the brothers. We watch as she arrives as Samuel's fiancee after he had spent time living with his mother in the city yet it is immediately obvious that both Alfred and Tristan have an immediate fondness of her. Whilst there are other events such as the brothers heading off to fight in the war, everything boils down to the romantic melodrama especially as events lead to Alfred and Tristan basically fighting over her.

Now all of this is well worked because of the character dynamics especially between Alfred and Tristan. They may have the same parents but they are very different with Alfred being more business like and ambitious whilst Tristan is more laid back and a free spirit. In fact whilst most of the drama revolves around the effect Susannah has on the brothers it is Tristan which the movie tends to follow. Right from the opening it builds up the character of Tristan, this boy who loves the wilderness and the adventures it brings which includes battling a bear. And even in the later years we still have that element of Tristan being a sort of free spirit, someone who needs room to breathe and live.

Whilst there is no one storyline in "Legends of the Fall" in the traditional sense it still manages to culminate in a big finale. At to be honest it is a surprisingly stunning finale which manages to bring things to a head whilst throwing in some surprising and shocking twists all of which have elements of drama and action. It is a heart breaking but brilliant way to end the saga of the Ludlow's maybe a little overly manufactured in places but ties everything up nicely.

All of which makes for an enjoyably compelling story which spans a few decades. But it is made all the better by some stunning cinematography which aids in delivering that sense of it being an epic. The breathtaking backdrops, be it the mountains, streams or the Ludlow homestead are truly magnificent and director Edward Zwick capitalizes on them at every opportunity. It's not just the landscape which is stunning as the scenes which cover the war as Alfred, Tristan and Samuel fight in the trenches are just as breath taking.

But here is the thing, Zwick does push things to make "Legends of the Fall" feel like an epic melodrama and at times it borders on the over kill. I lost count of the times Tristan's flowing blonde locks are made to look all the more impressive by being sun kissed. And the various romantic clinches and occasional sex scene feel like they could have come straight out of some lusty novel. That's not all as the amount of macho posturing also borders on the wrong to the point that it veers towards being cheesy. For some it will be too much as Zwick goes above and beyond to deliver melodrama but for me those occasional moments of over kill don't ruin the end product and at times actually adds something special to it.

Now there are a lot of brilliant performances in "Legends of the Fall" from Henry Thomas who plays Samuel through to Anthony Hopkins as Col. Ludlow, especially during the later part of the movie where his character has suffered a stroke. In fact there is not a single bad performance and the cast which also includes Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Karina Lombard and Gordon Tootoosis are all pivotal as to why it all works. But "Legends of the Fall" is really all about Brad Pitt as so much of the movie focuses on Tristan and Pitt does a good a job as anyone. Yes Zwick's love of Pitt's good looks does become a bit too much in places but Pitt creates this interesting character someone who is more than just a laid back guy. You get to understand that Tristan is at one with nature, never happier than when riding his horse but like a wild animal needs to be free to live. It's hard to explain but Pitt makes this character come to life, to have darker elements which make him not just a good guy and it makes him interesting.

What this all boils down to is that "Legends of the Fall" is a very good movie, a modern saga which at times gets close to being the epic it's trying so hard to be. From the interesting characters through to the wonderful landscapes and cinematography it grabs your attention and draws you into the melodrama of the Ludlow brothers and Susannah. It's not so much spoiled but blighted by Zwick going one step too far to make it a beautiful drama and there are scenes which are over done, overly crafted and lacking the naturalness which would have been so much better. But it still works and it is one of those movies where you may know the story back to front but the minute you start to watch the characters, drama, romance and action it draws you in.

Tags: World War I