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Legends of the Fall (1994)

by on 2013/06/22

Legends of the Fall (1994)

“Tell him hello and congratulations.”

* * * *

To judge by Gru’s word-of-mouth and review of Legends of the Fall, I imagined a frothing debacle. Instead I saw a compelling portrait of a family’s disintegration, scattering, drawing together, exploding and imploding repeatedly.

It seems to suggest that one could live their life correctly, but that doing so wouldn’t necessarily stop it all falling apart.

Seems like a bleak premise, yet the movie never totally mines those depths.

Our prior review spells out the plot in an exacting commitment to detail, and so I’ll try to keep this summary brief. Spanning the early Twentieth Century, from its turn to 1963, the story’s hub is a Montana homestead, presided over by William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins). A veteran and single parent, he raises three boys (Brad Pitt, Aidan Quinn, and Henry Thomas) with the help of friends, a live-in Cree family.

Conflicts, careers, and loved ones come and go, but the single greatest change agent is a guest in their home, a woman named Susannah (Julia Ormond). She catches the interest of all three boys, inadvertently sowing discord. Their various interactions form the spine of the story, if not the proverbial heart.

Most of the characters have an opportunity to narrate over transitions, reading letters and journal entries aloud, but it’s not all epistolary either. Nor is it exactly romantic or historical, and less western than I expected, though transitional elements do play important roles.

The whole is sprawling enough to encompass many moods, people, places, times, and ideas. It’s hard to believe it was based on a novella. It’s a strange – but acceptable – synergy of farm life and garden party, with dashes of wilderness survival, battlefields, gangsters, and pirate exotica.

The least convincing aspects involved a handful of “spiritual” moments, when Pitt would commune with animals, carve up bodies, and suggest some psychic connections. And my esteemed co-reviewer is not without reason in critiquing Hopkins post-injury. He’s a scene-breaking distraction whenever he appears in the second half of the film, winning less sympathy than skepticism.

I also thought the final scene left the movie feeling cheap, with its choppy pace and use of shutter speeds. Not a super end-note to the more lavish production until then.

Then again, I usually felt, for all its epic scope, Legends of the Fall was lacking in a certain grit. Ineffably theatrical, feeling a bit over-staged, I found it far more interesting than involving. Which may sound like faint praise. All the same, I did enjoy my two-plus hours with it.

I suspect that Gru’s dislike is a defense mechanism gone wild. There’s nothing to hate here, and much to be admired, but also too little to love unconditionally.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

133 minutes

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