The French and Indian War is raging in the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York in 1757 as British Army Major Duncan Heyward (Steven Waddington) arrives in Albany to serve under Colonel Edmund Munro (Maurice Roëves), the commander of Fort William Henry on Lake George, 60 miles due north.
An old friend of the Munro’s, Heyward is ordered to bring the colonel’s two daughters – independent, intelligent and outspoken Cora (Madeleine Stowe) and young Alice (Jodhi May) – to their waiting father. Heyward professes his love to Cora and proposes to her.
Heyward and the two women travel through the forest, accompanied by a small detachment of British soldiers and guided by Magua (Wes Studi), a Huron warrior employed by the British as a scout, but the treacherous Magua soon leads the party into an ambush in the deep woods.
Magua escapes, but the soldiers are all killed or injured. Heyward and the women in his care are saved by a Mohican chief named Chingachgook (Russell Means), his son Uncas (Eric Schweig), and his adopted white son “Hawkeye” (Daniel Day-Lewis) – the orphaned offspring of English settlers who died on the frontier.
As the trio escort the women and Heyward to the fort, Cora and Hawkeye form an attraction (as do Uncas and Alice), and Cora is forced to tell a jealous Heyward that she will not be able to become his wife.
Arriving at Fort Henry, they find it under siege by the French and their Huron allies.
Evading enemy soldiers, they enter the fort, where Colonel Munro asks Heyward about the reinforcements he has requested – but is disappointed to discover that his plea for help never reached Fort Edward.
During a parlay, French General Louis-Joseph de Montcalm (Patrice Chéreau) gives the British a chance to leave their fort honourably and return home without their guns. Colonel Munro agrees to Montcalm’s terms, but Magua – whose family were slaughtered by Munro’s order – rails against the decision.
The following day, Munro, his soldiers, and their women and children leave the fort and march away in a long column, but Magua and his Huron warriors ambush them from the surrounding woods. Magua kills Munro and cuts out his heart. Hawkeye and the Mohicans battle through, leading Cora, Alice, and Heyward to temporary safety.
Magua and his braves eventually capture the major and the women in a cave behind a waterfall. Hawkeye, Chingachgook, and Uncas escape by diving into the rushing waterfall but Hawkeye vows to come back for them.
Magua brings his captives to a Huron settlement and asks its sachem (Mike Phillips) – meaning “elder” or “wise one – to decide their fates. Hawkeye also arrives to plead for their lives.
The sachem rules that Heyward must be returned to the British, Alice given to Magua, and Cora burned alive.
However, Hawkeye tells Heyward (who is translating) to beg the sachem to let him take Cora’s place. Heyward instead swaps his own life for Cora’s. After Cora and Hawkeye are at a safe distance, Hawkeye shoots Heyward to put him out of his misery as he burns at the stake.
Chingachgook, Uncas, and Hawkeye then go after Magua’s party to try and free Alice.
Uncas fights Magua but is killed by his enemy, and Alice chooses to step off the cliff and take her own life.
While Hawkeye holds Magua’s men at bay, Chingachgook slays Magua and avenges his son. With Hawkeye and Cora by his side, Chingachgook then prays to the Great Spirit to receive Uncas, calling himself “the last of the Mohicans.”
The Last of the Mohicans employed more than 900 Native Americans from all over the United States, mostly from the Cherokee tribes. Several of the Native American actors spoke their lines in their native languages (with Wes Studi speaking his native Cherokee to native Mohawk speaker Mike Phillips, with most of the dialogue unintelligible).
The supposed Mohican dialogue between Chingachgook and his son Uncas featured Russell Means (an Oglala Lakota Sioux) speaking unintelligibly with Eric Schweig (a Northern Inuit).
The film cost $40 million to make and another $15 to $20 million to market and grossed $70 million in domestic box office receipts with a further $5.5 million from the foreign market. Brisk video rentals later added another $25 to $30 million.
Hawkeye (Nathaniel Poe)
Maj. Duncan Heyward
Col. Edmund Munro
Justin M. Rice
Coureur De Bois
Eric D. Sandgren
Capt. De Bougainville
Dylan Baker (as Mark Edrys)