Cold Mountain (2003). Film review of the American Civil War epic

Film still from Cold Mountatin (2003) showing Nicole Kidman and Jude Law
Standard

Historical/period/epic

image four star rating very good lots to enjoy

Film review by Jason Day of Cold Mountain, the epic American Civil War epic about a genteel Southern woman and her rough-hewn suitor and the many beguiling people and encounters they have. Starring Nicole Kidman, Jude Law and Oscar-winning Rene Zellweger.

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Synopsis

Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her minister father (Donald Sutherland) arrive in the North Carolina village of Cold Mountain to a warm welcome.

It is not to last as external events sweep through their peaceful idyll. The American Civil War is raging outside and needs more men and more blood.

Ada’s beau Inman (Jude Law) answers the call up and leaves, starting a years long odyssey as he attempts to make his way back home to his sweetheart.

En route, both of their lives are impacted by strange occurrences and even stranger people.

Review, by @Reelreviewer

The late, English writer/director Anthony Minghella sure had the feel of the sweep of an epic motion picture.

With The English Patient (1996) and The Talented Mr Ripley (1999) he also established himself as a purveyor of beautiful but also emotionally and intellectually ‘deep’ romantic pictures.

Had his life not been cut tragically short at the age of 54 by a hemorrhage following cancer surgery, he might very well have become British cinema’s next David Lean.

As it is, he left us with a handful of visually arresting, sensual romantic classics that tread, as Lean did so expertly, the right line between frankness and coyness.

The book this film is based on is by Charles Frazier, itself based on Homer’s Odyssey, recounting the journey of a humble man (not a King) desperate to get home to his beloved during the aftermath of a devastating war (American Civil, not Trojan).

Along the way he meets many strange people, some malignant, some benign. Unbeknownst to him, his sweetheart has to fend off, in as astute and wily way as possible, the advances of the predatory males who encircle her intent on grabbing her land and holdings.

So, it’s Gone With the Wind updated for a modern audience, but curiosuly almost entirely bypassing the slavery/racism undertones of that classic to focus on Inman’s arduous trek. The rather revolting whites he meets en route (his best pal is a Native American) compare with the rapacious ones back at Cold Mountain.

Kidman, an actress whose output never really stirred my reviewing loins at this part of her career, gets the Vivien Leigh/southern belle panting and swooning down to a fancy, fine art.

In this movie – thank God! – she manages to not be annoying. Kidman shows, just post her Oscar-wining role in The Hours, that she is a good if not great actress.

There is restraint, brilliant shadings of a personality (Ada is outwardly wan and conforming, but with flashes of rebelliousness and independence) and she really comes to life when she meets the incredible, powerhouse, Oscar-winning Zellweger as hired-hand Ruby who impresses Ada when she rings the neck of a cockerel that had been abusing her.

Zellweger is the glue that holds this film together because she binds the lighter, romantic, antebellum slant of the opening with rough-hewn comedy and when the tone of the movie switches to negativity – Cold Mountain’s crisp, fragrant, cotton fields summer quickly gives way to the ravages of harvest fails, near-starvation and frigid winter – she turns serious and is the mainstay of the house whom Ada aspires to follow.

The rest of the supporting cast deserve a group plaudit for their fabulous turns – indeed, they were nominated for three ensemble awards at international ceremonies.

From Philip Seymour-Hoffman’s adulterous priest – caught trying to drown his drugged mistress – to Eileen Atkins’ saviour ‘witch/apothecary’ who believes the humble goat can give a human everything they need in life, not one puts a foot wrong.

Cast & credits

Director: Anthony Minghella.

Producers: Albert Berger, William Horberg, Sydney Pollack, Ron Yerxa.
Writer: Anthony Minghella.
Camera: John Seale.
Music: Gabriel Yared.
Sets: Dante Ferretti.

Nicole Kidman, Jude Law, Rene Zellweger, Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Charlie Hunnam, Jack White.

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