Legends of the Fall (1994)

(On DVD, June 2017) Back in the nineties, if you wanted to win Oscars, there weren’t better strategies than going big in the way Legends of the Fall goes big. Take a western, throw in a war drama, then a prohibition subplot, then keep going so that the love complications span decades, involve numerous horrible deaths and settle into some kind of American-frontier bromides. (Plus, add as blatant a case of Chekhov’s gun as I can recall.) It seems cynical, but it does work: The film has uncommon scope and sweep even as it lines up a different subgenre every thirty minutes or so. It helps that it can depend on the reliable Anthony Hopkins as an opinionated patriarch (even though his later appearances in the film can cause unintentional hilarity) and cusp-of-stardom Brad Pitt in the bad-boy role … and Aiden Quinn as the son trying to be socially respectable. Opposite the men, Julia Ormond plays the object of three brothers’ affection, with Karine Lombard showing up briefly to provide a distraction. The stereotypes flock and accumulate in the film, but they sort-of-work, especially if you have a soft spot for American-frontier epics. Legends of the Fall may not be subtle, and it may not be innovative, but there’s something respectable in its blunt-force approach to a moderately respectable tear-jerker.

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