When I first started to watch the 1994 film Legends of the Fall on Encore, I was a little bit concerned when I discovered that it was directed by Ed Zwick. After all, Zwick also directed Love and Other Drugs, which is one of the worst and most insulting films of all time. In fact, I nearly stopped watching when I saw Zwick’s name. But, largely because I want to finish up this series of melodramatic film reviews at some point in the near future, I decided to go ahead and watch the film.
And it turned out that Legends of the Fall is not a bad film. I probably would have enjoyed it more if I had seen it in a movie theater as opposed to on television but, considering that it was directed by Ed Zwick, Legends of the Fall is definitely watchable. If nothing else, it’s better than Love and Other Drugs.
Legends of the Fall tells the story of the Ludlows, a family that lives on a Montana ranch at the start of the 2oth Century. Starting with the final days of the Indian wars and proceeding through World War I and prohibition, Legends of the Fall covers a lot of historical events but does so in a very Hollywood way, which is to say that all of the main characters dress like they’re from the past but they all have very modern social attitudes. In this case, Col. William Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins) may be a wealthy white military veteran but he’s also totally pro-Native American. And, of course, all the local Native Americans love him, despite the fact that he’s a representative of the institutions that have destroyed their way of life.
Anyway, Col. Ludlow has three sons. The oldest, Alfred (Aidan Quinn), is serious and responsible. The youngest, Samuel (Henry Thomas), is naive and idealistic. And the middle child is Tristan (Brad Pitt), who is wild and rebellious and looks like Brad Pitt. You have to wonder how the same gene pool could produce both Aidan Quinn and Brad Pitt.
As the film begins, Samuel has returned from studying at Harvard. With him is his fiancée, Susannah (Julia Ormond, who has really pretty hair in this movie). Though she loves Samuel, Susannah finds herself attracted to Tristan, largely because Tristan looks like Brad Pitt. Tristan is also attracted to Susannah but he would never betray his younger brother. In fact, when Samuel announces that he’s enlisted in the Canadian army so that he can fight in World War I, Tristan and Alfred soon do the exact same thing.
War is Hell, which is something that Samuel discovers when he’s gunned down by a bunch of German soldiers. Tristan responds by cutting Samuel’s heart out of his body and sending it back to Montana. He then proceeds to go a little crazy and when we next see Tristan, he’s uniform is decorated with the scalps of dead Germans.
Meanwhile, Alfred has been wounded in battle and is sent back to Montana. Eventually, he ends up married to Susannah. And then Tristan comes back home and…
Well, a lot of stuff happens after Tristan returns. In fact, you could even argue that too much happens. Zwick obviously set out to try to make Legends of the Fall into an old school Hollywood epic but far too often, it seems like he’s mostly just copying scenes from other films. There’s a hollowness at the center of Legends of the Fall and the end result is a film that’s visually gorgeous and thematically shallow.
And yet, you should never underestimate the importance of looking good. Legends of the Fall is a beautiful film to look at and so is Brad Pitt. I wouldn’t necessarily say that Brad gives a particularly good performance here because, to be honest, Tristan is such an idealized character that I doubt anyone could really make him believable. But the Brad Pitt of 1994 looked so good and had such a strong screen presence that it didn’t matter that he wasn’t as good an actor as the Brad Pitt of 2015. Legends of The Fall is one of those movies that can get by on pure charisma and fortunately, Brad Pitt is enough of a movie star to make the film work.
Legends of the Fall is not a great film but it’s still not a bad way to waste 120 minutes. (Of course, the film itself lasts 133 minutes but still…)