(Ed Zwick, 1994)
It's not easy to adapt author Jim Harrison to the screen. A filmmaker as vital and distinctive as Tony Scott found that out with Revenge. And if he couldn't quite translate the timeless macho poetry of Harrison to film, what chance did a director as plodding and insipid as Ed Zwick have?
Based on Legends of the Fall: absolutely no chance. Harrison's novella is both spare and epic, but Zwick's movie is instead turgid and ridiculous, an episodic and at times cringeworthy soap opera with beautiful landscapes and bad performances.
Brad Pitt plays Tristan, beloved middle son of Col Ludlow (Anthony Hopkins). They live on a Montana ranch along with Ludlow's American Indian employees, who bring Tristan up as a half-brave with a respect for nature and a certain intolerance for the ways of white society. His older brother Alfred (Aidan Quinn, giving the best performance in the film, full of pain and anger) is more conventional, while the plot is kicked off when the youngest, Samuel (Henry Thomas) brings home a beautiful girl who bewitches all three brothers. She is Susannah (Julia Ormond), and she falls for Tristan, of course, beginning a long series of scenes in which Ormond and Pitt appear to be competing to see who has the shiniest hair.
Samuel wants to go off to fight in WW1, so Tristan goes along to protect him, fails, and takes his revenge by crossing no mans land after dark and scalping Germans. When he returns to Montana, he and Susannah comfort each other after their loss in the most predictable, soft focus way possible, then he goes off travelling the world to quiet "the bear inside him", leaving her to wait at home at the mercy of a smitten Alfred.
In 1994, Pitt had not yet realised that acting meant more than just posing, flexing his cheek muscles and biting his lips. He is awful here; a vacant, beautiful model. Ormond is little better, causing you to wonder why any of the three brothers would be interested in her.
Both are outdone by Hopkins, who gets to play a post-stroke Ludlow as a shambling invalid, and slices the ham thickly here.
Zwick's direction never dodges a visual cliche, from the slow motion during key scenes to the honeyed cinematography, and the score and script all combine to make this feel somehow neutered.