Starring: Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Julia Ormond, Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas, Gordon Tootoosis, Paul Desmond
Rated R for Violence, and for Some Sexuality and Language
By all accounts, "Legends of the Fall" should be a grand, glorious epic on par with "Gone with the Wind." It has the period piece setting, the larger than life characters, the action, the adventure, the romance, the tragedy...all the good stuff. And yet, there's something missing. The pieces are there, but they don't quite mesh perfectly.
The story, as they do in movies like this, follows the Ludlow family: William (Hopkins), the patriarch, Tristan (Pitt), the eldest child with a wild heart that cannot be tamed, Alfred (Quinn), the sensible middle child, and Samuel (Thomas), the baby of the family. Of course, there's a woman, too. Her name is Susannah (Ormond), Samuel's fiancée. All three brothers fall in love with her and she for them.
It is not enough to have all the pieces for a movie like this and to simply put them together. The best movies of this ilk do all that, but add something more. It's a synergistic magic that fuses them all together. Movies like "Braveheart" have that, but sadly, that one crucial element is missing here.
Perhaps its because Edward Zwick, while an enormously talented filmmaker in his own right, isn't the best choice. A movie like this depends on manipulation and melodrama. It's why we go see them. But Zwick has trouble choreographing the "big moments" that should make our hearts soar or bring tears to the eyes. They're usually effective, but rarely hit the sweet spot. I kept thinking that someone like Steven Spielberg or Robert Redford could have taken this story and made a true masterpiece out of it.
The acting is strong. Anthony Hopkins is in fine form, and while it's a role he could do in his sleep, it's to his credit that he doesn't. Aidan Quinn is very good. The Irish character actor is rarely given leading roles in big budget movies, and he seizes the opportunity. This is his best performance, but he doesn't try to steal the spotlight from his co-stars. Julia Ormond is lovely as Savannah, and while she's solid in the acting department, she's not spectacular. The weak link is Brad Pitt. Usually he's effective, but there are definitely times when his fame works against him. There are also times when he internalizes his character's emotions too much, making it seem like he's reaching for an emotion. It takes you out of the moment.
The pacing is at times awkward, which is to be expected considering that the film takes place over the course of 15-20 years. Zwick comes up with an interesting solution: having the characters communicate to each other through the letters they write. In doing this, he switches narrators and perspectives. Admittedly, this sort of thing has been done before, but not like this. However, in some ways he relies on it too much. When the characters talk in person, someone seems to be coming or going.
That the film misses the mark shouldn't be construed as meaning that I don't think it's worth seeing. It is. The story is good, the film looks fantastic, and the score by the late James Horner is excellent (no duh). If that's not reason enough to give this movie a solid recommendation, well, tough.