Mark Reviews Movies

COLD MOUNTAIN

2 ½ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Anthony Minghella

Cast: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Ray Winstone, Donald Sutherland, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman 

MPAA Rating: R (for violence and sexuality)

Running Time: 2:35

Release Date: 12/25/03


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Review by Mark Dujsik

Cold Mountain would be a fantastic movie to watch with the sound off. That might sound harsh, but I mean well. The movie's sense of imagery and visual panache is so rich and vibrant that any story set within it would seem more striking as a result, and appearances are what director Anthony Minghella appears to be banking on. The story is a one note affair about the ravages of war in which beautiful people are dirtied up and walk around idyllic landscapes while bad things happen all around them, so I suppose it's a good thing Minghella concentrates primarily on the outward execution of it. Perhaps as a straight melodrama, this material would have worked much better, but the script seems unnaturally in love with its own significance. And it is unmistakably a melodrama, with all of the development of its characters brought on by events outside of them, and no amount of solemn pretense can hide that fact. Each character we meet practically hits the same thematic note, and, with a few notable exceptions, the actors take an overbearing approach to their performances.

Inman (Jude Law) is a Confederate soldier stationed at Petersburg when the Union army mounts a surprise assault on the fort. The tide of battle changes, but Inman is still seriously wounded in the fighting. Throughout his time at war, he has clung to one thought: the memory of Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman). In his hometown of Cold Mountain, the two shared a practically unspoken and unfulfilled romance, but he holds on to hope of returning to her one day. While in the hospital, however, his intentions are quickened when he receives letters from her, telling of her father's passing and the hardships that have followed. Inman runs away from the army and makes his way home, avoiding Confederate soldiers on the lookout for deserters. Ada, meanwhile, finds help on the family farm from Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger), a rugged woman who's also apparently lost her father. As Inman wanders home, little does he know that trouble awaits him at his final destination in the form of Teague (Ray Winstone) and his thugs, who are determined to hunt down any and all traitors and anyone who harbors them.

The movie starts off strongly with its intense, gruesome opening battle sequence in which one slaughter turns into another. The Union army plants explosives underneath the Confederate base, and Minghella brings us inside the immediate results of the explosion in their horror. Soon after, though, the Union side finds itself trapped, as the walls of the base are too high for them to climb and the oncoming march is unable to stop. Confederate soldiers pick off their opponents, and others are crushed in the mud under the advance. It's an important scene that would seem to give motivation to the inciting incident of Inman's absconding, but that clearly isn't enough reason, as we are dealing with a love story here. Intercut through the events of the exposition are flashbacks to the budding love between Inman and Ada, but they are hardly much to fall back on. That's part of the point, I suppose, and we're supposed to realize that this romance is the first of many things to be interrupted by war. Nonetheless, it still means a lack of connection to these characters. The rest of the movie hinges on Inman's adventures traversing the South, meeting a range of characters who hit the desperation of war theme repeatedly, and Ada's growing independence and coldness.

Events unfold as expected, and the characters change dependably as a direct result of them. They all predictably go through the motions of plot, and the cast for the most part follows in suit. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman are dependable in their roles, and Kidman in particular does a fine job changing from delicate Southern belle to independent woman. Considering the shallow nature of their characters, though, neither has much of a job to do beyond looking pretty. The majority of the supporting cast features many recognizable faces, and all of them do a fine job solemnly reiterating the central theme. Most of those roles feel like cameos, save for two. Philip Seymour Hoffman appears as a minister who indulges far too often in worldly pleasures, and it marks yet another robust performance for the character actor. It's a shame he's only around for a short time. The appearance of Renée Zellweger's Ruby is like a breath of fresh air—an energetic character in the midst of the exhausted. Zellweger inhabits this character in a complete transformation of her physicality.

Minghella and his production team have mounted a valiant effort in making this story as visually appealing as possible. The period is recreated with harsh accuracy by production designer Dante Ferretti, and it's all captured with haunting desolation by cinematographer John Seale.  All of this makes Cold Mountain beautiful to look at but ultimately hollow nonetheless.

Copyright © 2004 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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