Cold Mountain

Cold Mountain


Reviewed by: Angus Wolfe Murray

The plot is simplicity itself. A Confederate soldier escapes from a front line hospital in the last year of the American civil war and walks all the way home. Like the convicts in O Brother, Where Art Thou, he meets eccentric folk on the journey and has dangerous adventures. Eventually, after almost dying more than once, he is reunited with the girl of his dreams.

The naked romanticism can be embarrasing at times. Before Inman (Jude Law) has joined up to fight for the South, he has hardly said three words to Ada Munroe (Nicole Kidman), the left-handed, well-read, elegantly dressed daughter of the new minister (Donald Sutherland) in Cold Mountain, North Carolina. He is, after all, a lowly carpenter, whose intellectual baggage has yet to be packed.

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The film is shot part chronologically, part flashback, with a voice-over narrative, sliced from Ada's letters to Inman. Writer/director Anthony Minghella uses this technique as a method of keeping the audience abreast of Ada's increasingly destitute circumstances after her daddy dies, which is transparently manipulative, because the story is more concerned with Inman's journey than Ada's struggle with farm animals.

Minghella's trademark (The English Patient, The Talented My Ripley) is epic and beautifying exquisite grandeur of natural landscapes, mixed with the intensity of forbidden and/or unobtainable passion - his first film, Truly, Madly, Deeply, was about a grieving widow's relationship with a ghost.

Here, in the unspoilt splendour of the Romanian mountains, doubling for 18th century America, he is in his element. Every shot has been artistically approved, but you can have too much of a good thing, however tasteful, and perfection only counts when contrasted against imperfection.

As a result, the film has a veneer of falsehood. How could the underdressed, wounded Inman make it through winter snows, without food or sufficient ammunition, over hundreds of miles of inhospitable terrain, with renegade gangs of marauding deserter hunters on his trail? Why does the curly blonde Ada, with her tall slim figure, attract no other lover? Would the men who stayed behind behave like Bosnian Serbs to their fellow villagers? As for the ending - the very ending - it has the stamp of studio interference and is the equivalent of mushy peas at a gourmet banquet.

Law's performance carries the weight of Inman's unspoken history supremely well and Kidman has become the mistress of emotional diversity. Renee Zellweger, as Ruby, the hard living, tough-talking woman of the soil, who moves into Ada's farm, is completely miscast and, to compensate, overacts to the nth degree.

The European contingent do good, especially Ray Winstone as the homegrown nasty and Brendan Gleeson as Ruby's fiddle-playing dad. Minghella never lets you forget that this is based on Charles Frazier's novel and, therefore, has been touched by the fairy dust of bestsellerdom.

Love like this remains as pure as the memory of a first kiss, unsoiled by disappointment and as big as the world.

Reviewed on: 24 Dec 2003
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Epic, romantic journey of a Confederate deserter during the last year of the American civil war.
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David Haviland ***

Director: Anthony Minghella

Writer: Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Charles Frazier

Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Giovanni Ribisi, Eileen Atkins

Year: 2003

Runtime: 152 minutes

BBFC: 15 - Age Restricted

Country: US


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