Anthony Hopkins plays stern patriarch and ex-cavalryman William Ludlow, whose disgust at the actions of his own government during the Indian Wars leads him to bring up his three sons Alfred, Samuel and Tristan (Aidan Quinn, Henry Thomas and Brad Pitt) on a remote ranch near the Montana Rockies.
Their lifestyle is irreversibly changed when Samuel brings home his beautiful fiancée, Susannah (Julia Ormond), and the brothers decide to join the army to fight in the First World War.
With a sweep that encompasses the passing of the Old West, the First World War, ivory hunting in Africa and Prohibition, this could have easily turned into a sprawling mess, but director Edward Zwick handles the various subplots with deceptive ease and fashions a poetic hymn to the values of loyalty and family ties, which only occasionally slips into melodramatic cliché.
Hopkins is suitably craggy as the father, Pitt believably intense as the wayward middle son and Ormond delightfully unforced as the beauty who entrances the whole family.
The real star, however, is John Toll’s Oscar-winning cinematography, which is equally at home with the stunning beauty of the mountainous terrain and the killing fields of war-torn France.
John T O’Banion