Film Reviews

COLD MOUNTAIN

By • Dec 25th, 2003 •

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Miramax Films / A Mirage Enterprises / Bona Fide production
R-Rated / 154 minutes

The problems facing Anthony Minghella’s adaptation of Charles Frazier’s National Book Award novel “Cold Mountain” are insurmountable, making for a long, dreary movie starring one of the most gorgeous faces in films – Jude Law.

The big problem is that COLD MOUNTAIN is a long-distance romance taking place during the Civil War era, when manners and customs submerged lust into a dignified courtship of quick glances and chance meetings at church.

As the war is approaching, Inman (Law) is a day laborer in North Carolina. He briefly meets the very proper, glamorous Ida (Nicole Kidman), the newly transplanted daughter of the town’s minister ,Rev. Monroe (Donald Sutherland). Ida is educated and has not been brought up to do farm work. Inman is a man of very few words. They have a sudden encounter on a porch. Ida is reserved and distant. Yet, a few days later, moments before Inman goes off to join the Confederate Army, Ida gives him her photo. They kiss.

Years pass. Ida writes to Inman, always waiting for his return. Her father dies and she is left on the farm playing her piano and reading Wuthering Heights. She is useless. Inman, wounded in a horrific battle, is given a letter Ida has written to him. She asks him to return to Cold Mountain. He immediately deserts.

Deserters are hunted and shot for sport. It is not considered an honorable thing to do, regardless of the circumstances.
Meanwhile, Ida’s neighbor Sally (Kathy Baker) suggests that Ruby (Renee Zellweger), an independent farm girl, come to help her. Ruby is a blistering, ornery workhorse. You don’t want to spend one hour with Ruby, even if she can mend the fence, milk the cow, plant crops, plow a field, and cook. Her voice can kill farm animals at a distance.

COLD MOUNTAIN moves back and forth between Ida’s life on the farm and Inman’s arduous journey home to her.
Herein lies the cinematic quandary. Inman deserts because he wants to return to his great, albeit brief, love. On his travels through the back roads he must avoid the men looking to kill deserters. He meets up with a varied assortment of people but his intent keeps him from experiencing them. He is passing through. He is an observer. He can’t get involved. He has to keep moving.

Kidman and Law have a sparse few scenes together, certainly not enough to maintain an enduring longing that holds our interest. Their lack of chemistry cripples the story. Kidman is arch and distant. Why does she desire Inman over all the other men in Cold Mountain? Ida is pursued by another man, Teague (Ray Winstone) who can help her survive, but she is not interested in him. Winstone, so terrific in SEXY BEAST, actually shows desire and longing for Ida, who brusquely dismisses his controlled advances.

Likewise, Law fails to convey passion for Ida. It’s Minghella’s camera that Law is seducing.

Throwing cold water on an already tepid love story, Zellweger tramples over the scenery further mudding the intended mood. Zellweger’s over-the-top performance places Kidman in a difficult role. She must keep Ida restrained or else her scenes with Zellweger would come off as a vaudevillian act. Kidman stands around while Zellweger contours her face and stampedes about the farm.

Inman’s journey home involves him in a series of encounters: A philandering minister (Philip Seymour Hoffman, seen with Law in Minghella’s great THE TALENTED MR RIPLEY), a redneck (Giovanni Ribisi) with a house of sex-hungry women, a young widow (Natalie Portman), and a strange old goat keeper (Eileen Atkins). Portman galvanizes in her small, evocative scenes with Law. Finally, some sexual chemistry is resurrected. But Inman is on a mission to return to his true love and cannot be deterred by a despairing young woman.

Meanwhile, Ida and Ruby have to contend with Ruby’s rogue of a fiddle-playing father, Stobrod (Brendan Gleeson), who turns up at the farm with two musicians.

Throughout her ordeal and the surprising ending, Ida’s emotions stay closed off and remote.

It should be noted that the battle scenes are stirring, chaotic, and horrific. Minghella has created a fine portrait of Civil War lunacy; yet, unfortunately, Law, Kidman and Zellweger are not remotely connected to the story.


Credits:
Screenwriter-director: Anthony Minghella
Producers: Sydney Pollack, William Horberg, Albert Berger, Ron Yerxa
Executive producers: Iain Smith, Bob Weinstein, Harvey Weinstein, Bob Osher
Director of photography: John Seale
Production designer: Dante Ferretti
Music: Gabriel Yared
Costume designer: Ann Roth, Carlo Poggioli
Editor: Walter Murch

Cast:
Inman: Jude Law
Ada: Nicole Kidman
Ruby: Renee Zellweger
Maddy: Eileen Atkins
Stobrod: Brendan Gleeson
Rev. Veasey: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Sara: Natalie Portman
Junior: Giovanni Ribisi
Rev. Monroe: Donald Sutherland
Teague: Ray Winstone
Sally: Kathy Baker
Esco: James Gammon
Bosie: Charlie Hunnam

Newmarket Press, 18 E. 48th Street, New York, has published a beautifully illustrated and informative book, COLD MOUNTAIN: THE JOURNEY FROM BOOK TO FILM. Publication date is December 25, 2003.

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