'Legends of the Fall': THR's 1994 Review

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Brad Pitt in 'Legends of the Fall' (1994)
Unfortunately this family saga wanders close to the borderline of melodrama, while annexing more storyline than it can compellingly handle.

On Jan. 13, 1995, Tristar's 133-minute, R-rated epic Legends of the Fall hit theaters. The film went on to nab three Oscar nominations at the 67th Academy Awards ceremony, winning one for cinematographer John Toll. The Hollywood Reporter's original review is below.

We discover that sensible people retreated to the Northwest long before these mad times in this sweeping, family epic about the Ludlow clan who ranched in Montana in the early part of this century. 

Heightened with a richly panoramic musical score and widened by some jaw-dropping lensing, Legends of the Fall should score some modestly respectable business based on its textural beauty.

Unfortunately this family saga wanders close to the borderline of melodrama, while annexing more storyline than it can compellingly handle. Overall response will be decidedly mixed. 

Anthony Hopkins stars as Col. William Ludlow, a former U.S. Cavalry officer who, sickened by the government's treatment of the Indians, retreated to the far wilds of Montana to raise his three sons, the most challenging of whom was Tristan (Brad Pitt), a rambunctious roustabout who stretched the reserved demeanor of his half-brother Alfred (Aiden Quinn), especially in the matters of the heart.

The catalyst for their rivalry is the beauteous and sophisticated Susannah (Julia Ormond), a refined and decidedly repressed plum from back East. Not surprisingly, as Susannah sheds her refinement, her eyes glisten more for Tristan. 

With its miniseries range, Legends of the Fall is a decidedly ambitious production, casting a slant on the West itself through the prism of this very active and individualistic family. Indicative of its ambition and breadth, it even follows the brothers to the trenches of World War I.

While the Susan Shilliday and Bill Wittliff script is often riveting, it also suffers noticeable gaps and flatlands, lumbering under its own girthy sweep. 

In general, director Edward Zwick does a commendable job of keeping things apace, while keenly mounting his considerable technical artillery, namely, John Toll's scrumptiously pristine cinematography and James Horner's piercingly full score. 

Among the players, Pitt stands tallest in the saddle. His charismatic rowdiness brings the film to life. Hopkins does an admirable turn as the feisty and honorable head of the clan, while Karina Lombard gives an invigorating performance as Tristan's Native American wife. — Duane Byrge, originally published on Dec. 12, 1994

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