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Friday, January 13, 1995 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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Don't Fall For `Legends'

----------------------------------------------------------------- Movie review

XX "Legends of the Fall," with Brad Pitt, Anthony Hopkins, Aidan Quinn, Julia Ormond, Henry Thomas. Directed by Edward Zwick. Aurora, Chalet, Crossroads, Everett 9, Guild 45th, Kent, Mountlake 9, Parkway Plaza, SeaTac North. "R" - Restricted because of nudity, violence, language, sexual situations. -----------------------------------------------------------------

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association's Golden Globes are regarded as a reliable predictor of the Academy Awards, but it's doubtful the Oscar voters will share the group's enthusiasm for this pompous mess.

Nominated in four Globe categories, including best picture (drama division), director (Edward Zwick) and actor (Brad Pitt), "Legends of the Fall" plays like a Really Bad Cinema version of "Bonanza," with quite a bit of the plot from "East of Eden" thrown in for bad measure.

(Was this just a lousy year for drama? Nah. Look at the outstanding movies the Foreign Press passed over in this category: "Nobody's Fool," "Death and the Maiden," "Little Women," "The Last Seduction," "Blue Sky," "Heavenly Creatures," "Mrs. Parker and the Vicious Circle.")

Overwhelming music

Also nominated for a Globe is James Horner's lumbering, relentless score, which may be the single most damaging element here. The music is inescapable, poured like warm tar over every big emotional scene, and it's often accompanied by the movie's most pretentious touch: the words of an all-knowing Cree scout-storyteller (Gordon Tootoosis) who seems left over from an Oliver Stone epic.

Pitt plays the James Dean role, the rebellious golden boy who steals his brother's fiancee (Julia Ormond). Anthony Hopkins is his stubborn father, a retired Army colonel whose wife has left him. Aidan Quinn and Henry Thomas are the other sons, who share a Montana ranch with them until World War I disrupts their increasingly unhappy home. After the boys' predictably disastrous encounter with German soldiers on the European battlefield, it's back to the ranch for a series of political and romantic trials.

The script is filled with portentous Hemingway-esque pronouncements ("I have become a hunter, and I have killed them all") and other myth-making declarations ("All we had is dead, as I am dead"). Pitt's character becomes a kind of persecuted Christ figure, taking on the sins of the government when the Volstead Act and his own politically ambitious brother (Quinn) make life complicated for his extended family in the 1920s.

Too short and too long

Much of this is the fault of the screenwriters, Bill Witliff ("The Cowboy Way") and Susan Shilliday ("thirtysomething"), adapting a more straightforward Jim Harrison novella that might have worked better as a miniseries. At 133 minutes, the movie seems both too short for its subject and too long for what its writers make of it.

Zwick, who has directed one very good theatrical film ("Glory") and one television classic ("Special Bulletin"), seems equally lost in his attempts to shape what he calls "a big, dark, beautiful and generous family chronicle." The actors fit their roles exceptionally well, but Zwick rarely allows them the kinds of crucial, intimate moments that establish how the characters feel about each other.

Occasionally the story grips, suggesting what might have been if the actors had been playing people instead of archetypes. The family's independence, its fierce resistance to the growing power of outside forces, has the same potential for frontier tragedy as "McCabe and Mrs. Miller." But by the time it's over, even that seems like just another hollow notion.

Copyright (c) 1995 Seattle Times Company, All Rights Reserved.

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