Michael Mann's Career Defined in the Final Scene of 'The Last of the Mohicans'

Michael Mann's Career Defined in the Final Scene of 'The Last of the Mohicans' ...

The Last of the Mohicans, a 1992 historical film, was only the fourth of Michael Mann's eleven feature films. They were already in prime form (albeit through the lens of a more straightforward narrative) and showed Mann's virtuosity, which was uncoincidentally one of the most compact and moving films in thirty years since its release.

What Is The Last of the Mohicans About?

The Last of the Mohicans, a film by James Fenimore Cooper, takes place during the Seven Years' War and follows frontiersman Nathaniel "Hawkeye" Poe (Russell Means at his most dashing) as he escorts two sisters across the Adirondack Mountains to reunite with their father, a British army colonel led by Magua (Madeline Stowe), who ultimately discovers a cause worth fighting for.

The result is an exhilarating achievement with fantastic performances, authentic costume and weapon reproductions, and a haunting emotional core that bites so viciously when the credits roll. Mann's empathy is palpable. He presents the story as part of an all-you-can-eat buffet for lovers of massive Revolutionary War romances.

MohicansWas a Critical and Commercial Success

The film was nominated for Best Sound at the Academy Awards, but it remains relevant to the 1990s filmmaking period. Most importantly, Mann has always evoked a convincing atmosphere in a series of set pieces from films throughout his career: Mohicans (obviously), the iconic Heat, and his neo-noir Collateral.

When Mohicans comes to an end, Mann has spent two hours laying down internal logic, cohesive character beats, and the danger presented by the frontier setting. Instead, the Huron tribe orders Magua to adopt the quiet, sensitive Alice (Jodhi May) as his new wife. Magua runs after Magua in a desperate attempt to save Alice, the woman he loves from afar.

What follows is cinema in its purest form. As Uncas pursues Magua on his own, while Chingachgook and Hawkeye feverishly follow, Mann abandons all dialogue. With nothing else to draw the eye or ear, the simple act of presenting art through a visual medium is left standing on its own strength. It's a preemptive adaptation of the same technique Mann would employ to outstanding effect in both Heat's legendary bank heist and the club assassination in Collateral

Mann is well-known for his details, which make the film.

The minutiae in Mohicans' breathless race against time begin with Hawkeye and Uncas' labored breathing as they literally scale a mountain. When combined with shots of Uncas' hands struggling for a purchase or the sweat staining Hawkeye's throat as he single-handedly reloads his rifle, it's an authenticity that the audience instinctively accepts.

Heat's Violence Follows the Same Pattern

Heat's robbery follows the same strategy by grounding the audience's spatial and situational awareness with establishing sounds as much as establishing shots. Adding to the tension is Elliot Goldenthal's deceptively simple soundtrack, which repeats McCauley's stalking stride with another subconscious layer of slow-burn suspense.

When this mostly dialogue-less violence happens, it's volcanic. Shiherlis beating a guard is an auditory assault worthy of a flinch, and outside on the busy Los Angeles streets, Al Pacino's LAPD detective Vincent Hanna is instantly replaced by his rising pistol.

The subsequent fight and its disastrous aftermath are ongoing, overwhelming, and world-ending. And for good reason: Mann used the live audio of the combat-trained actors firing true rounds instead of the traditional method, where a foley artist substitutes on-set audio.

Mann's Influence Has Also Featured in His Film Editing

Although without music, Heat boasts a rhythm by proxy thanks to co-editor Dov Hoenig (a repeat Mann collaborator who cut Mohicans), Mann eases his audience into a lived-in world before unrepentantly removes the rug.

Collateral's stunning gunfight set in a Korean nightclub changes expectations like a gymnastics routine. If Heat's sound design emphasized the quietness of daily life, a disturbingly loud dance bop submerges the room like a wet blanket. The audience waits until Vincent's payoff when he switches from prowling hunter to lethal killer (recalling Shiherlis in the bank) and when the live round double taps inevitably fly, they shred right through a

Every shot in Michael Mann's film has a meaning.

Every scene in Hoenig's films has a significance, whether it's Heat and Mohicans cinematographer Dante Spinotti tinting the lonely expanse of Los Angeles blue or implying that mankind is inconsequential with a pan over the fog-soaked Blue Ridge mountains. In not one, but two films, he balances separate but simultaneously moving groups.

The Celtic violin refrain on Mohicans' final track, "Promentory," is as unrelenting as the heroes' quest for victory and as inescapable as the unfolding tragedy. It's a fundamental editing technique used to enhance the impact of a blow, yet the music rises in triumph as Magua meets his demise on the highest note.

Michael Mann's ascension to onscreen violence is transcendent. According to critics, Mohicans is the least "Mann-like" film because of its clear, traditionalist narrative focused on romantic and familial connections. That's true, but doesn't it make his future works even more interesting?