Set during the French/Indian War of the mid-18th century, The Last of the Mohicans takes place in upstate New York where British and French troops are fighting with the aid of various Native American 'war parties'. Nathaniel 'Hawkeye' Poe (Daniel Day-Lewis), a white man adopted by the last members of a dying tribe called the Mohicans, becomes the unwitting protector of Cora and Alice Munro (Madeleine Stowe and Jodhi May), the daughters of a British colonel (Maurice Roeves) after sadistic Huron warrior Magua (Wes Studi) targets the girls in revenge for a past injustice committed against his family by the colonel.
As shot by Dante Spinotti, upstate New York has a primal and untamed quality, a roughness that is equalled by the rugged realism of the portrayal of colonials living on the land. Mann strove to replicate the feel of the period in every way; the costumes, weapons and even the way people lived were meticulously researched and recreated on screen. This attention to detail seems effortless, perfectly blending into the narrative.
Underlying all the action and rich storytelling is an understated thoughtfulness. Set at the point where a different, modern America was born, bloodied and conflict-ridden, The Last of the Mohicans stresses the importance of freedom and self-determination, and plays these ideas out against a sense of fin de siècle mournfulness. While on the one hand an entertaining and technically superior spectacle, it's these central ideas that still resonate today.