Cold Mountain

A movie of gorgeous moments alternating with many more that feel literate to the point of inducing boredom. It’s a long sit, this one, unless you find yourself swept away on the very thin romance here.

Minghella is an intelligent, cinematically astute filmmaker who never allows his movies to get unruly or obnoxious the way a more pedestrian Hollywood director might in a flailing attempt at seriousness or poetry. As it is, Cold Mountain is a bleak, sometimes brutal evocation of the Old South in the waning days of the Civil War. Inman (Jude Law), disgusted by the war, is desperate to reunite with his true love, Ada. So, he goes AWOL and sets off to do just that. Evoking Homer’s Odyssey (on which Charles Frazier’s novel is based), Cold Mountain follows Inman’s journey through hostile territory, rigged with temptations, but Inman heroically forges ahead, faithful in body and spirit to Ada. Meanwhile, Ada–our Penelope figure–along with her trusty, feisty sidekick, Ruby (Renee Zelwegger), pulls herself up by her bootstraps, and learns to manage her farm. In the course of her hardship, Ada develops a stern resourcefulness–a stark change from the prim-and-corseted minister’s daughter we were introduced to at the movie’s outset.

Across the board, Cold Mountain boasts full-blooded, fiercely committed performances, from the fantastic Jude Law to the astonishingly villainous Ray Winstone (as Teague). In fact, Winstone’s Teague may be the lustiest, most ruthless and repugnant rogue to come around on our screens in a long, long time–he is truly frightening on screen. Kidman, so identified as an icy and elegant beauty, pulls off her Scarlett O’Hara-esque role stunningly well; Zellwegger, doing her “Annie-Get-Your-Gun” shtick, amuses and endears as only she can. The rest of the cast (especially Donald Sutherland as Ada’s father, Reverend Monroe) gives solid support.

Minghella does such a fine job directing this weighty material that I don’t want to quibble, but the fact is Cold Mountain’s adaptation isn’t especially strong. The story moves in fits and starts, and, after it was over, I wondered what the point was in all this pining and pathos. The themes of the Mountain are noble and moving, but Frazier and Mingella want to make a poignantly Homeric parable, and it just doesn’t deliver as that. While perplexingly weak in making its case thematically, the violence and terror in Cold Mountain, pointing to the moral breakdown of a war-torn society–where no woman and child is safe from rape, pillage, murder–were keenly and disturbingly felt.

Grade: B

Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Written by: Anthony Minghella
Cast: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland

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