Movie Review
Cold Mountain
Cold Mountain poster
By Stephen Lucas     Published January 3, 2004
US Release: December 25, 2003

Directed by: Anthony Minghella
Starring: Jude Law , Nicole Kidman , Renée Zellweger , Natalie Portman

Running Time: 155 minutes
Domestic Box Office: $95,633,000
A sweeping epic love story, and the writing is befitting.
In true Miramax tradition, the Civil War set love story, ?Cold Mountain,? is a film made to win awards. With a cast of past Academy Award nominees, a similarly honored director, a screenplay adapted from a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, and luscious cinematography, the film seems (by all means) to be a contender at the Oscars from the get-go. Some criticize Miramax for combining these elements in similar fashion, claiming that the confection is sub par. However, I don?t concur with that assumption, and nor did I feel the need to count out ?Cold Mountain? from the start for having such talent involved.

The film turns out to be a beautifully photographed, superbly acted, and smartly directed accomplishment, achieving on both aesthetic and emotional levels. If this is the type of film that comes from the Miramax recipe, I for one don?t have any problem reaping the benefits.

Nicole Kidman and Jude Law star as Ada and Inman, two villagers in Cold Mountain who fall in love merely weeks before the outbreak of the Civil War. Ada, a proper young southern woman, and Inman, a laborer of sorts, meet one afternoon upon her arrival in town and share a light but meaningful conversation; from there, they start seeing one another quite often and eventually get more deeply involved. Their romance culminated in an immensely passionate kiss; it?s possibly one of the most effective kisses in recent history, and rightfully so. If that scene doesn?t work ? right before Inman is sent off to war ? the remainder of the film would have painfully suffered.

Like the now-forgotten Julia Roberts/Brad Pitt film, ?The Mexican,? the majority of ?Cold Mountain? is told from the two different perspectives of Ada and Inman. The story is, for the most part, told four years following that last kiss between them (neither Ada nor Inman have lost hope to see each other). What ?The Mexican? essentially lacked was a reason why the audience should care if its characters ever came back together; their stories forked just as they were fighting, so we didn?t quite care what happened to their relationship. In ?Cold Mounatin,? however, the bond between Ada and Inman is instantly engaging and we care how things pan out.

On top of this romance, there are various supporting characters who give the film its texture. Renee Zellweger (another Academy Award nominee) portrays Ruby, a tough mountain woman sent to help Ada and her farm. The latter?s father (whom Ada was very close to), unexpectedly died one afternoon, leaving his daughter to fend for her when she never had to before. Ruby is perhaps the most fascinating character to come along in quite a while; though very funny (providing the film?s comic relief), she has moments of great poignancy and emotional heft. Her father abandoned her and had treated her like a slave most of the time; because of this, among other things, she and Ada become friends.

Meanwhile, Inman sees the hellish and disturbing nature of warfare. Near the beginning of the film, there?s a rather dirty and bloody battle sequence, setting the tone for the rest of ?Cold Mountain,? which has quite a bit of violence. While Ada?s portion of the film deals with some of the more domestic troubles in this time period, Inman?s story touches on several different aspects of the war and life in the south during this time period.

What I also found interesting about the film is that it seems to be against the war; it never glorifies the violence or seems very logical to most of the main characters. It may seem like a liberal shove into history, but we don?t often see war told in this manner; putting this approach into prospective, Inman ultimately abandons the war. His journey home back to Cold Mountain ? namely, to Ada ? is met with many different characters and situations.

Actors playing a part in Inman?s portion of the film include Phillip Seymour Hoffman as a rather non-Christian minister; Natalie Portman as a single mother struggling after the death of her solider husband; and Giovanni Ribsi as a Trojan horse southern of sorts. The most commendable performance of the three is that of Portman, who transcends what I?ve seen her do previously in less than ten minutes of screen time. What her character brings to the film is rather important; we?re exposed to a woman affected so radically by only one death in a war of millions; it?s a very subtle but worthwhile addition to the film.

What all the episodes of Inman?s story show is how sudden relationships with strangers can either be very promising or just plain dangerous. I don?t think we often realize what a rough society it was back in Civil War times, with women prostituting themselves and soldiers attempting rape. Unlike last year?s ?Gangs of New York,? ?Cold Mountain? doesn?t push these aspects to an unnecessary degree, though some nudity seemed a tad excessive.

In the midst of all of these side attractions, the love story is what holds his film firmly together as their romance gets even more intimate in their separation. I was quite amazed to see how much chemistry Kidman and Law had despite their not being in scenes together for the majority of the film. What so many films with an interrupted romance do is have one of the lovers move on over time, but still love the person from before.

?Cold Mountain? goes against the current, choosing to shed light on the strength of love as opposed to the loss of it. Some may argue that the film is overly sentimental, but I disagree; without the intimate focus on the relationship, there is no structure, and the sentimentality expressed is never forced due to skilled acting. However, I do think there is a small stretch in the film where it lost its romantic momentum.

As Ruby and Ada grow closer in friendship, Ada finally seems to be happy for once in her life. She celebrates Christmas with a band of musicians, dancing and singing. Only a few scenes later, she's put back into more dramatic context, longing for her love once again. This is a pretty slight detail in the grand scheme of things, but I found it somewhat unnecessary. The only logic I can think of is that joy can overwhelm despair at times, but, as the film suggests, a reminder of sadness can trigger a shifting of gears.

All and all, though, ?Cold Mountain? is an inspired piece of filmmaking on equally artistic and technical levels. Director Anthony Minghella (who also adapted the screenplay from the best-selling novel by Charles Fraiser) has an amazing vision and puts it onto screen with vitality. His film is mounted spectacularly with appealing scenery, cinematography, and camerawork. The visual impeccability of ?Cold Mountain? only adds to its many qualities as opposed to saving the film as a whole.

This love story, along the other many subplots, is told in a way that we can connect with; Ada and Inman?s romance can mean different things to different people, which is great. Audiences should usually come out of the theater having seen something that stimulates them artistically or emotionally, and ?Cold Mountain? did both for me.

Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are both great in their respective roles as Ada and Inman. Kidman won an Oscar last year for her stunning performance in ?The Hours,? and so it?s not surprising that she?ll likely be up again for ?Cold Mountain? this year. Although Kidman?s work is impressive and rather compelling here, Law?s performance captured my attention. The way in which he molds his character is very intriguing in that he allows the other characters to develop his own character. Law has always been a very organic actor and is always believable, and his leading role in this film gives him ample opportunity to show his talents on a much larger scale. Hopefully we will see more of Jude Law as a front man in the future, as he surely does deserve it.

Renee Zellweger?s performance as Ruby is, to say the least, impressive. She pulls off a rather difficult and heavy southern-mountain accent, as well as the unique characterization of her character; her character is arduous to take on in the first place, and she pulls it off very well. Ruby is predominately the comic relief from the film?s dramatic sequences, but what I found remarkable is how truthful her part becomes. Renee has been nominated two years in a row now for Best Actress (coincidentally against Kidman both times), but I think she has a spectacular chance of winning an Oscar for this supporting role.

Having been an adaptation of a Pulitzer Prize winning novel, one should expect a somewhat literary-minded film to come from it; those who saw ?The Hours? should know what I?m referring to. The dialogue is (at times) a tad flowery and the use of voiceover tends to take wind often, but it?s in spirit of the story. ?Cold Mountain? is a sweeping epic love story, and the writing is befitting; despite its occasional wordiness, the film never feels too whimsical or pretentious in nature.

?Cold Mountain? is obviously an Oscar contender this year, but it deserves to be. This is a film that consistently works and has been made with the utmost craftsmanship and execution. Lead by strong performances and an engaging story, it succeeds in being a picture of quality and value. There are people who say it?s just another Miramax confection, but I beg to differ.

If ?Cold Mountain? is in fact a product of some recipe or pattern, it doesn?t matter; greatness should never be judged in how it was created but by what was created. Like Ada and Inman?s romance, ?Cold Mountain? is engaging from the very beginning and there?s never a good enough reason not to care the entire time. There is no contrivance or superficiality ? ?Cold Mountain? is accomplished filmmaking on several levels and should be acknowledged accordingly by audiences and award shows alike.
Stephen's Grade: A-
Stephen's Overall Grading: 23 graded movies
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'Cold Mountain' Articles
  • Jennifer's review A
    December 29, 2003    Anthony Minghella offers a beautiful adaptation of Charles Frazier?s beloved novel, from the script to the actors to the look of the film. -- Jennifer Alpeche