Cold Mountain (2003) / War-Romance

MPAA Rated: R for violence, sexuality, nudity, rape, and language
Running Time: 152 min.

Cast: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Kathy Baker, Brendan Gleeson, Ray Winstone, Philip Seymour Hoffman, jack White, Charlie Hunnam, Donald Sutherland, James Gammon, Natalie Portman, Ethan Suplee, Eileen Atkins, Giovanni Ribisi, Jena Malone, Melora Walkers, Taryn Manning, Cillian Murphy
Director: Anthony Minghella
Screenplay: Anthony Minghella (based on the book by Charles Frazier)
Review published June 28, 2005

Cold Mountain 2003It took me some time to finally be able to sit all the way through Cold Mountain, despite several attempts. Some of this had to do with the fact that at 155 minutes, it's quite a lengthy film. Some of this had to do with the somewhat depressing subject matter, as there appears to be little happiness in any of it. However, I think what kept me from being able to finally make it to the end to offer it a film review was the fact that it earned such a high amount of critical acclaim, and I never really connected with it on any substantial level, despite sitting through up to two hours of it. I figured I must have missed something vital that everyone else seemed to connect to but I had overlooked. Having finally seen it in its totality, I realize that I didn't really miss anything. Not all films speak to all people the same way, and whatever Cold Mountain has to say isn't something I hadn't heard before in other tales -- I guess I was looking for something new. Still, I will admit that I do think it is a good film, but it's also the kind of film I admire for its technical aspects, while I can't seem to embrace as a movie that really struck a chord with me, whether emotionally or intellectually.

The story revolves around Inman (Law, Road to Perdition), a young Southern man who leaves his small town to join the fighting forces of the South in the Civil War. Shortly before he leaves, he meets and develops a strong emotional bond with one of the newly local women, a daughter of the well to do, Ada (Kidman, The Hours). As the South begins to look like they are fighting an uphill battle, and as Inman gets almost fatally injured, he decides that he will desert the army and make the long trek back to see the woman that affected him so. Meanwhile, Ada sits and waits for his return, although she loses much of her wealth and ability to care for herself, and the brutal local men are looming to take her for themselves. While neither knows if the other is still alive or interested, they both go through a share of very perilous adventures in order to continue in the hope that they find their true love at the end.

In the middle of watching Cold Mountain, the thought struck me that this story, based on the book by Charles Frazier, seems very familiar, and soon I began to realize that this plot contains very similar elements to Homer's "The Odyssey", with its man lost in a war, his faithful wife, her ill-bred suitors, and his many dangerous travels on his way home. It also occurred to me that many of the elements also reminded me of O Brother Where Art Thou?, another film set in the Deep South that takes its plot from the same epic poem. With enough feelings of deja vu already planted in my head, it now becomes somewhat difficult to give credit where credit is due in terms of the story elements, and the movie as a whole feels a bit derivative in its plot, although not really that similar to other Civil War epics. In short, the familiarity did breed a bit of contempt within me, sorry to say.

One other thing that I didn't understand was the depths to which each lover was willing to go through in order to attain being together. While I certainly understand infatuation, and perhaps even feelings of affection for someone one hasn't really come to know, I wonder what would happen if Inman had traversed all that way in order to find that the two would-be lovers are just not really all that compatible. Obviously that wasn't going to happen, as we wouldn't have a happy ending, although I maintain that is certainly a much more realistic expectation. In a film like this, it's the unrequited love that reigns supreme, as it is in many great romances, and certainly anyone who has seen this film to the end will feel it is a strong romantic period piece. I say, there's a lot of interest, affection, and perhaps a smidge of lust, but nowhere does love really come into play.

This brings me to the conclusion that Cold Mountain is a story that wants us to think that love is measured by what sacrifices one is willing to go through to attain it, and while I instinctively am inclined to romanticize about such notions, as represented here, I just am not feeling it. Perhaps it is the casting of Law and Kidman into the lead roles that leaves me aloof -- both are fine thespians, good looking to boot, but they are also not quite the right fit for their roles. Law doesn't look like a man who has done physical labor for most of his life, and certainly doesn't give that inner strength to say he would be a strong heroic war figure. Kidman has almost always had an intensity to her acting that shows us she really can emote quite well, while just above that, she lacks that strong charisma to utterly convince us she really is the person she plays. While watching the film, we see them as Jude Law and Nicole Kidman first, and as Inman and Ada in a secondary fashion, while it should be the opposite.

Although it all looks and sounds so good from an aesthetic standpoint, it isn't until Renee Zellweger (Down with Love, Chicago) makes her appearance as Ruby that Cold Mountain really starts to take hold. She commands attention immediately, and gets it, in a very sympathetic role that shows a great deal of strength, but underneath, an almost unfathomable amount of pain. In fact, it is only after Ruby rattles Ada sufficiently that we feel anything for Ada at all. If you're ever looking for a case where a supporting actor is the catalyst for making an average film good, this is certainly a prime example.

By the end of the film, I feel like what I saw was ultimately worthy of the time it took to watch it, and I would recommend it to those who haven't seen it, although I do feel that there is an element of distance that keeps this from being one of the great war romances -- Gone with the Wind it ain't. It would go one to earn a great deal of Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, but would only win one, Best Supporting Actress to a very worthy Zellweger. Although I think it is overrated by many, I still think it's a good flick, despite the fact that underneath all of the emotional turmoil, it's heart is as distant and icy as the mountain of the title.

Qwipster's rating:  

©2005 Vince Leo