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Cold Mountain
2003 - R - 155 Mins.
Director: Anthony Minghella
Producer: Albert Berger
Written By: Anthony Minghella
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Review by: Greg Ursic
   
Vietnam, Somalia, the former Yugoslavia,. In the pantheon of warfare, the most devastating conflagrations are surely civil wars: divisive and destructive, they pit neighbour against neighour, turn brother against brother, often destroying entire economies and generations of families in the process. The US Civil War was no exception, with hundreds of thousands of men dying and a landscape left in ruin. But despite the devastation, hope still survived.

Inman (Jude Law), a simple, stoic country boy is roused from his tranquility when Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) moves to Cold Mountain with her father the good Reverend. Their budding acquaintance is interrupted by the arrival of the war, and like all good patriots, Inman joins up to fight . As months turn to years, and the Southern columns crumbles around him, vague memories and fleeting hopes are all that sustain Inman as he struggles to make it back home.

Anthony Minghella realized that his grand vision for Charles Frazier’s novel could not be brought in on budget in North Carolina or anywhere else in North America, so Minghella sought out a cheaper venue. Enter Romania, where in an isolated location, they were able to build not only two farms, but an entire Civil War town. The seclusion also allowed the actors more time to acclimatize to thefrontier lifestyle and slip into their roles more readily.

Jude Law abandons his pretty boy persona for Inman, spending the bulk of the film grizzled and dirty. Beneath the rough façade is a man who embraces the concepts of honour, integrity and love as a matter of survival. They will ultimately keep him alive after being wounded and throughout his cross-country journey. Nicole Kidman is convincing as Ada, retaining a glamorous dignity even after undergoing a transformation from helpless gentlewoman, to capable survivor. Kidman once again displays a warmth and passion that was largely absent during her Cruise period, when she was noted for playing cold distant characters.: while Ada is resolute, there is a definite undercurrent of passion that suffuses her.

Both Law and Kidman mastered their characters’ accents, which is an impressive feat, as it is very difficult to replicate a southern accent without it sounding satirical. The duo also enjoy solid onscreen chemistry ( it is understandable how the rumours of their off screen involvement got started), which makes their unrequited “relationship” both sustainable and believable.

Renee Zellwegger, embraces her role as the decidedly unglamorous down to earth farm girl Ruby, dispensing wisdom in easy to understand packets. In addition to providing Ada with much needed friendship, she also teaches her how to survive. The contrast between the two - rough hewn Ruby, and dainty Ada - supply the film with some much needed comic relief. Natalie Portman, in one of the film’s most powerful scenes, delivers a stunning performance as a widow caught up in the tempest and turmoil of war – I still expect to see an Oscar in her hands one day soon. Philip Seymour Hoffman and Giovanni Ribisi are entertaining as a wayward priest and grimy hick respectively. Scenery also plays a central role in the film.

I can only assume that the stark snow covered mountains, lush alpine valleys and thick pine forests of Dracula’s former haunt are a reasonable facsimile of the mountains of North Carolina. Regardless, they provide a fitting backdrop for the story, accentuating the separation between the leads, and allow for some gorgeous cinematography.

In keeping with the recent trend in big-budget releases, Cold Mountain features a huge fight sequence. Unlike its contemporaries, there is no majesty or seeming purpose for that matter - the battle is base, brutal, ferocious and haphazard, with combatants wallowing in mud, blood and futility. As one character notes of the fray “It’s a turkey shoot”.

At two and a half hours Cold Mountain is at times slow moving and imponderable – could a couple who’ve never actually been a couple keep grasping for what may never be? Unless you’re a dyed in the wool cynic, the answer is an unequivocal yes. You may want to keep a tissue handy just in case.
 
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

 
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