I watch a lot of movies & I can't remember the last time a film held me so spellbound. Not only are the characters engaging & vividly portrayed by an excellent cast, the subtle dynamics of their interactions are portrayed with inspired undertone & nuance. Star billing or even an Oscar should also have been awarded to the spectacularly beautiful scenery of Montana for the vast majesty it bestowed.
This complex saga of love, grief & loyalty is narrated with stark simplicity by old Stab, long-time friend to retired Colonel Ludlow & his 3 sons: staid Alfred, the eldest ("old even for his years"); idealistic Samuel, the youngest ("There was nothing these brothers would not do for him."); & wild Tristan ("Such people become crazy or they become legends."). The conflict between Ludlow's fiercely anti-government anti-war stance & his sons' determination to do what they see as their duty is but a small part of the story; the heart of the tale is the rift that threatens the mutual devotion of these 3 loyal brothers as they all come to love the same woman. "She was not to blame," Stab tells us, "She was like the ice that freezes in the rock and splits it apart."
A tragic tale, yes; heartbreaking at times, but never boring. Every time I felt certain I knew what was coming next, the plot took another unexpected turn & I sat there riveted, softly breathing "Wow!" now & again into the darkness. This film immediately became one of my all-time favorites; I've watched it half a dozen times since then & its scope & power never fail to move me.