LEGENDS OF THE FALL. Directed by Edward Zwick; written by Susan Shilliday and Bill Wittliff; produced by Edward Zwick, Bill Wittliff and Marshall Herskovitz for TriStar. Starring Brad Pitt, Julia Ormond, Aidan Quinn and Anthony Hopkins. Rated R (violence, a little sex)
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Legends of the Fall is part soap opera, part horse opera, with a little mysticism thrown in for good measure. It will more than satisfy the soap opera fans in the audience, but might disappoint moviegoers expecting an ordinary western.
The acting is superb, the music is gorgeous and the scenery is 'way beyond gorgeous. Most of it was filmed near Calgary, in Alberta, Canada, which is not too far from where it's supposed to be, in Montana. And there may not be more beautiful countryside on earth.
But the story is perhaps too sprawling, trying to cover too much ground and too many themes. And it may be somewhat short on concrete action, especially for those western buffs. Most of the time, the movie works, but, particularly toward the end, it needs a bit more focus.
As we learn from the narration of One Stab, an ancient Cree (Gordon Tootoosis), Col. Ludlow (Hopkins) was thoroughly disgusted by the Army's "Indian policy." Ludlow resigned, vowing to keep himself and his family insulated from the world on his Montana ranch. Naturally, he's bound to fail.
Youngest son Samuel (Henry Thomas) gets caught up in war fever while at college and enlists to fight the Kaiser, taking his two brothers along with him. He also brings home his fiance, Susannah (Ormond), whom the brothers take an obvious interest in, as well.
A wartime tragedy provides the impetus for the rest of the plot since, with Samuel out of the way (I'm not really spoiling any surprises here) Alfred (Quinn) and Tristan (Pitt) can begin their long duel for Susannah.
Tristan is the center point for all the action, the "Legend" of the title, and Pitt carries the responsibility well. He looks great in the part, (no surprise) and does a good job acting-wise, too. The character is similar to the one he played in A River Runs Through It , but it makes more sense here because of the mystical significance that One Stab attributes to Tristan.
The rest of the cast, both well-known names and appealing newcomers, is just as good. I particularly liked Hopkins' understated portrayal; he doesn't have as much to say or do as the others, but he makes quite an impact. And Ormond makes it easy to believe that such different kinds of men could all fall for Susannah.
As an old-fashioned epic tear-jerker, Legends of the Fall is first-rate. In spite of a few occasional bursts of violence, though, it's not your usual shoot-'em-up—for better or worse.
February 1, 1995