Though Michael Mann’s buckskin-sex, tomahawk-to-the-head take on James Fenimore Cooper isn’t about the Revolutionary War or national independence, it evokes, as few films do, the real wilderness of the time, a place at once homestead, battlefield, and frontier. Log cabins, cannon-stocked forts, gun smoke and mud, eating venison by candlelight—this may be the closest an American film will ever come to capturing the period. Plus it has Daniel Day-Lewis and Madeleine Stowe; as star-crossed lovers amid the warfare, they’re the most convincingly hot movie pair of the 1990s.
Blow Up, Chappaquiddick, Watergate, JFK, sound engineering, and Philadelphia, all rolled into a crazy plot involving a political assassination that the hero (John Travolta, engagingly relaxed) may have accidentally recorded on audiotape. The background of a berserk City of Brotherly Love during the July Fourth fete is as central to the film, visually and ironically, as the national monuments used by Hitchcock in his works. All in all, a smashing, thoughtful, stirring piece of pulp, and probably the best movie for the holiday.