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"When the reel stops, the film will be remembered only as a muddled and tiresome misadventure."
"The most obvious and frustrating aspect of the film involves a relationship that seems doomed from the start."
"Predictable and unnecessarily long, the film makes a simple story more complex."
Cold Mountain  


Inman: Jude Law
Ada: Nicole Kidman
Ruby: Renee Zellweger
Rev. Monroe: Donald Sutherland
Veasey: Philip Seymour Hoffman
Sara: Natalie Portman
Junior: Giovanni Ribisi
Review December 2003

"Cold Mountain" is a capable, but poorly executed and over hyped drama. Based on the best selling novel by Charles Frazier, it depicts the love story between Inman, a soft-spoken Confederate soldier and Ada, a high society southern belle. Both are inevitably separated upon the announcement of the Civil War and endure many hardships on the path toward a final reunion. Directed by Anthony Minghella, who also brought us "The English Patient" and "The Talented Mr. Ripley," the film is successful as a series of independent scenes, but when strung together the overall purpose gets lost in the shuffle. And when the reel stops, the film will be remembered only as a muddled and tiresome misadventure.

Inman is a soft-spoken carpenter in Cold Mountain who encounters Reverend Monroe and his lovely daughter, Ada, while working on a new home. The two newcomers have moved from Charleston because the Reverend's health is failing. And by circumstance, Inman and Ada are drawn together. But their romance is short lived as Inman is determined to fight in the Civil War. Although separated, the two vow to be faithful to one another, sharing hopes that the war will end soon and they will be reunited at Cold Mountain.

In the meantime, however, both endure considerable hardships. Inman experiences one of the most horrific battles of the war and is wounded shortly afterwards. And Ada, upon the death of her father, is left all alone, a city girl without a clue about country life. "This war is lost on the battlefield and is being lost twice over by those who stay behind," says Ada. In dire straits, she begs Inman return to her, knowing that the chances are slim that he will receive the letter, let alone remember her. But fortunately for her sake, a kindly neighbor solicits the help of a young, sensible woman named Ruby and together, the two begin the painstaking job of reviving the family farm.

While Ada and Ruby work the land, Inman receives Ada's letter and begins the long, treacherous journey back to Cold Mountain. Deserting the war is considered treason, punishable by death. And thus, Inman's road is filled with unknown and known hazards. Along the way, he encounters many characters willing to help him, some willing to betray him, and others in desperate need of his help. Yet out of all of the dangers he faces on his trip home, it is the uncertainties waiting for him at Cold Mountain that will affect him the most.

"Cold Mountain" is disappointing in many ways. The most obvious and frustrating aspect of the film involves a relationship that seems doomed from the start. Carefully, Minghella builds up the subtleties of romance between Ada and Inman. They exchange supposed loving glances, photographs in which neither seems very happy, and eventually, even a farewell kiss. But are they really in love? Can this love be genuine enough to survive the distance that separates them? For years, Inman is fighting gruesome battles while Ada fights roosters and tends the farm. Though Ada writes many letters in correspondence, the result is irrelevant because Inman does not reply nor does he receive more than three of them in his entire absence. Conceptually, the thought of a long distance relationship with the Civil War as a back drop sounds interesting because both individuals yearn for love, a quick end to the war, and a return to normalcy while facing insurmountable problems on their own. Yet for this type of story to be effective as a film, the characters must have something significant, something to gain or to lose, some kind of connection that goes deeper than a memorable acquaintance.

In conjunction with the flaky romance between Inman and Ada, the screenplay suffers from micromanagement. Each of the short scenes that comprise Inman's return and each of the short scenes that comprise Ada's transformation are fascinating on their own right, yet fail to move the story to its conclusion. For instance, Inman's journey back to Cold Mountain turns into a Homeric Odyssey, with one odd character introduced after the next. There's Veasey, a shamed clergyman seeking escape; Junior, a temperamental outdoorsman who seems overly grateful; and Sara, a war widow in need of tenderness. And just when the film gets overly sympathetic or compassionate, we are jolted with senseless acts of violence from Teague and his gang. Though these are all interesting perspectives outside of the Civil War, I question their validity when combined with the main storyline. From a macro view, they become transparent.

And the film quickly becomes miserably predictable. Clocking in at over two and a half hours, the film skips the editorial process and takes the long way around to its foreseeable end. None of the side stories matter because, just like Ada's vision in the well, we can see the end clearly. And even with additional footage, it still leaves many questions unanswered: If the thought of Ada and home meant so much to Inman, why would he voluntarily go to war? How did Ruby's father, Stobrod, go from playing his violin for the wounded boy next to Inman, back to Cold Mountain so quickly? And what made Teague and his gang immune to the ruthless ideals that they were upholding? Why were they not off to war?

"The English Patient" was one of the most beautiful looking films I have ever seen and undoubtedly, John Seale's work here is just as stylish. Capturing the horrendous misjudgment by thousands of North soldiers trapped in a huge crater, the sweeping landscapes of Cold Mountain, and Ada's liquefied flashback that comes to life flawlessly, Seale's camerawork is a marvel. Through Seale's lens, we get to see a different view of the Civil War than what we're accustomed to, what goes on behind the scenes, what happens on the home front, and what happens to soldiers who have abandoned their duty. His work is noteworthy in a less than flattering epic.

But you can't fault the actors in this film. They are determined to give great performances no matter how poor the script is pieced together. Jude Law endures the majority of hardships from gunshots to chain gangs to female seducers. And in each instance, his character becomes more complex, evolving the same way Adrien Brody's Szpilman grew in "The Pianist" - from acts of fearlessness to cowardice to compassion. Nicole Kidman is solid as the fragile Ada who becomes strong out of desperation and necessity. And fortunately, for both Ada and movie going audiences, there's Ruby to pick up our spirits. If it were not for Ruby, the film would have been excruciatingly downbeat. Portraying the complete antithesis of Kidman's high class Ada, Zellweger isn't afraid to get her hands dirty, showing us range as both a woman with a rugged exterior and a sentimental interior. [My only beef with the casting is that the cameos came across as noticeable distractions, leading me to think that the only reason they are present is to add weight to this film's award prospects].

"Cold Mountain" is an unsatisfactory Civil War journey. Although Minghella tries to work in elements of "The Odyssey," it ultimately fails because of a weak link between its main characters. Unlike Odysseus and Penelope, who were husband and wife and had a son by the name of Telemekhos, Inman and Ada have little in common, little in the romance department, and remain separated and uncommunicative throughout the bulk of the film. It's no wonder that with so little interaction, the Homerian themes of fidelity, family, and fate are inconsequential. Predictable and unnecessarily long, the film makes a simple story more complex. Or, as Homer asserts: "It is tedious to tell again tales already plainly told" (The Odyssey).

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