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Cold Mountain

  Cold Mountain
Nicole Kidman offers Jude Law a copy of "Dianetics".

© 2003, Miramax
All Rights Reserved

On the eve of the Civil War, a young laborer named Inman (Jude Law) has developed an attraction for Ada (Nicole Kidman), the new lady in town. Unable to express himself, Inman finds it difficult to reveal his feelings for Ada, which she eagerly returns with similar shyness. When the war comes to Cold Mountain, their peaceful North Carolina town, Inman enlists in the fight, leaving behind Ada just as they were about to embark on a passionate romance. Over the next 4 years, Ada sends Inman letters of love and hope, even as her own life is falling apart. Finding himself at the end of his rope and recovering from a gunshot wound, Inman decides to desert the Confederacy and return home. Along the way, he meets a host of characters that alternately help and hinder his progress. Back in Cold Mountain, Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger), a drifter and skilled farmhand, comes to the town to help Ada tend to the land, as well as protecting her from lawmen who look to claim the nearly deserted town for their own.

"Cold Mountain" (IMDb listing) comes from the best selling book by Charles Frazier, who captivated a nation of readers with his account of long lost love, companionship, and redemption, set against the backdrop of the rapid morale loss of the south during the final gasping moments of the Civil War. Writer/director Anthony Minghella ("The English Patient," "The Talented Mr. Ripley") has quite a job in front of him in adapting the kaleidoscopic book for the big screen. But with exact attention to detail, magnificent casting, and source material ripe for the picking, "Cold Mountain" is a stirring success on every level imaginable.

I haven't personally partaken of Frazier's novel, but this film version of "Mountain" feels exactly like the slow burn of a novel coming to life. Minghella deftly takes the episodic nature of the book, with Inman traveling across the land meeting generously realized strangers, and stitches together a seamless production that doesn't have the sting of narrative gaps or loose ends (this film was edited by the talented Walter Murch). This is a complete story with deeply felt characters and situations, the added bonus being that it's set in a Civil War era that hasn't been touched upon too much by other productions. Minghella has his A story to attend to with Inman and Ada, but he also makes time to explore life in the war-weary south, where the men gallantly leave home thirsting for war, yet never return, leaving their southern belle wives and farmland mothers to pick up the slack. The film opens with the battle of Petersburg; an intense confrontation that found northern soldiers planning a sneak attack on their southern enemies, only to be caught in their own trap, leaving the southern troops free reign to kill at will. Minghella, not known for his knack with action sequences, creates a portrait of claustrophobia and mass death that burns in the back of the brain, taking the audience headfirst into the conflict and bathing it in John Seale's grimly beautiful photographic sheen. "Cold Mountain" isn't a Civil War drama in the traditional sense, but it features flavors of the era unexplored by many filmmakers recently, developing a greater understanding of the war that was fought at home.

While the film is exquisitely mounted and written, a good chunk of the power comes from the slightly high-wattage cast. Resembling a 1970s television miniseries chock full of stunt casting, Minghella has planted acting surprises around each corner. As Inman makes his pilgrimage to Cold Mountain, he meets up with such actors as Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Melora Walters, Jena Malone, a fantastic Natalie Portman, and Taryn Manning. On Ada's internal journey, she encounters Ray Winstone, Charlie Hunnam, Donald Sutherland, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Ethan Suplee, Brendan Gleeson, and Jack White of the band The White Stripes. The community vibe of the actors is intoxicating, casting a spell over the film.

The big three stars of the film do not disappoint either. Jude Law brings a quiet, hungry determination to his almost dialog-free role. Nicole Kidman tackles another accent and succeeds. Minghella has chosen her journey as Ada as the most profound of the story, and Kidman rises to the challenge elegantly, adding another notch to her impressive recent career revitalization. Law and Kidman also have the added distinction of playing in a romantic film where the two leads barely know each other; quite a step away from the more traditional romantic entanglements found in love stories. Both actors shade their performances accordingly, staying true to their situation, which is even more heartbreaking and ultimately devastating to behold.

The real soul of "Mountain" is found in Renee Zellweger's unexpected performance as Ruby. Initially, the character's volume and slight dimness seem like the result of an atypical bad performance from the actress. In time, it becomes clear that Zellweger is creating a character; the brunt nature of Ruby is just an element to Zellweger's acting. There are passionate performances all around, guided well by Minghella, but Zellweger is different and brilliant in her own unique cadence and posture. A winning characterization.

"Cold Mountain" comes at a time when big battles and epic landscapes are all the rage ("Matrix Revolutions," "The Last Samurai, "The Return of the King"). Through Minghella's ace direction, the film transforms from a prospective thudding tearjerker to something much more enriching and absorbing. "Cold Mountain" is a remarkable motion picture, and a stunning success story in page-to-film adaptations.

Filmfodder Grade: A

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