A great musical score can affect you on levels you aren’t even aware of. In fact, it was only when I went back and caught The Last of the Mohicans a second time that I realized the film has one of the most powerful and enthralling soundtracks in years. The score was composed by Trevor Jones and Randy Edelman (it’s available on the Morgan Creek label). Much of the credit for its effectiveness, though, must go to director Michael Mann. Starting with Miami Vice, in which he set urban-cop melodramatics against a narcotic rock pulse, Mann has proved the most inspired manipulator of movie music since Martin Scorsese. In his hands a soundtrack becomes a primal mood enhancer, achieving a true dialogue with the action.
In Mohicans, the dark grandeur of the main orchestral theme — at once stately and bold, with a classic romantic swoop — evokes the old-movie tingle you remember from the scores of Lawrence of Arabia and Star Wars. Mann, though, saves the best for last. During the spectacular cliff-top climax, a succession of jarring images — tomahawk battles, the young Alice facing her unthinkable destiny — are set against a whirlingly hypnotic, fiddle-and-jig-band version of the main theme. The effect is extraordinary: The music fuses the action, lending the entire sequence the heightened clarity of a dream. If that isn’t movie poetry, I don’t know what is.