A review of “Cold Mountain” by Jeanne Aufmuth

 

Stars: ***

Rating: R for extreme war violence, language and nudity

Run Time: 2 hours, 36 minutes

 

 

Anthony Minghella’s blistering adaptation of Charles Frazier’s dense Civil War novel has integrity oozing out of every cinematic pore.

Making up in dramatic heat what it lacks in raw emotion, Mountain tells the sad story of Inman (Jude Law), a simple craftsman cum wounded Confederate soldier who embarks on a perilous journey to return to his pre-war sweetheart Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman).

The long and winding road back to Cold Mountain, North Carolina is a par course of pain and suffering.  Inman encounters all manner of human beings at their basest form, from a philandering, sex-obsessed preacher named Veasey (the phenomenal Philip Seymour Hoffman) to a frightened war widow (Natalie Portman) nursing a gravely ill infant.  A backwoods redneck (Giovanni Ribisi) harboring a virtual harem of wanton women brings Deliverance sharply in focus.

On the home front, Ada sees the world as she knows it go up in smoke. Upon the death of her father (Donald Sutherland), the musical, French and Latin-speaking (read: genteel) Ada is forced to work the land of their expansive farm all by her lonesome, something akin to Scarlett O’Hara’s unrelenting trials in Gone With the Wind.   Salvation arrives in the form of feisty drifter Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger), an ace toiler who offers to co-work the deteriorating homestead in return for food and shelter.

As the film cuts back and forth between scenarios, the violence and brutality of the times is uncomfortably evident.  The trigger-happy Home Guard roams the countryside, anxious to locate and shoot-to-kill Civil War deserters, and stopping at nothing to keep the fires of their murderous rampage stoked.

Minghella has crafted a lush film resounding with blue-ribbon production values. The Civil War comes to chaotic life with a literal bang and buckets o’blood, and rural Romania’s lush snowscapes (standing in for Carolina’s Blue Ridge Mountains) are sinisterly pristine.

As was the case in The Human Stain, Kidman is altogether too ravishing to look the part of a long-suffering laborer. Her persistent glow is not in keeping with a woman perpetually on the brink of starvation. Law’s still-waters-run-deep mannerisms and brooding beauty are meaty enough to get the job done.  Zellweger is a perpetual scene-stealer, yawing and yammering her way through home-grown Southern dialogue (Texas native that she is) and working her heartfelt humor into the bleak ambiance.  She and Kidman flaunt a saving-grace chemistry that underscores their substantial shared screen time.

Cold Mountain is not the masterpiece it could have been or should be, perhaps due to the sheer mass of its lofty narrative.  Its love story is elemental; born of the tragedy of the times and shimmering with subdued desire. (“Stop fighting, stop marching, come back to me”).  It’s a beautiful film, lacking some resonance but sparkling with accomplishment and sure to please discerning adult audiences.