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Published December 26th, 2003 | by Jay Richardson

Cold Mountain Review

Classification: 15 Director: Anthony Minghella Rating: 3.5/5

As he did in The English Patient, Anthony Minghella has again crafted a stunning visual canvas from a sweeping historical novel, setting love against the ravages of war and political change. Cold Mountain is a lush, lengthy epic that for all its good looks benefits from the simplest of narratives. During the American Civil War, an embattled, deserting Confederate soldier embarks on a long and arduous journey home to his sweetheart. Their relationship had barely gone beyond a first kiss, but is sustained throughout the years of separation by a mutual flame.

Rivalling the film’s spectacular scenery for radiant, wintry beauty, Nicole Kidman plays Ada, pitching up in the town of Cold Mountain with her preacher pappy – a white whiskered Donald Sutherland. No sooner has this statuesque and cultured beauty arrived however, than she’s stirring sexual tension with Jude Law, the slack-jawed yet boyishly handsome labourer Inman. Despite class differences, their awkward conversations and longing glances leave little doubt such sculptured cheekbones are destined to be together. And the preacher gives his tacit consent by pausing thoughtfully after some astute peasant theology by Inman on the impending war. However, Inman, like the rest of the town’s young men, is desperate to sign up and be killed, so kisses his beloved goodbye whilst the brutish Teague (Ray Winstone), captain of the home guard, rubs his hands together gleefully.

Narrated chronologically, through flashback and Ada’s letters, we see Inman suffer the horrors of war whilst Ada struggles to maintain her home after her father’s death. Refined, but unable even to cook, Ada is wasting away until Ruby (Renée Zellweger) arrives at her door and strangles a chicken. After early disagreements, the two bond. Meanwhile, the wounded Inman has been persuaded to go on the lam by Ada’s letter pleading for his return. What follows is a kind of American Odyssey, as the bedraggled and heavily beard-stricken soldier is helped and hindered by a selection of lively cameos, including Natalie Portman as a lonely single mother and Giovanni Ribisi as an inbred type with randy female relatives. At one point, with the arrival of Phillip Seymour Hoffman as the sleazy Reverend Veasey it all goes a bit O Brother Where Art Thou?, but this is a film determined to garner Oscar nominations and the comic relief is swiftly dispatched. Thankfully, Zellweger remains to provide a lightness of tone to what would otherwise become unrelentingly serious, particularly in her grudging reacceptance of her ne’er-do-well father Stobrod (Brendan Gleeson).

Whilst the audience is under no illusion that Inman and Ada will remain apart, the underwhelming chemistry between the two leads can be overlooked as they spend little of the film’s lengthy screen time actually together. Law is highly watchable as a lone wolf, his doughty decency and survival instincts aided in a Blanche Dubois-like way by the kindness of strangers. And Ada finds her true foil in Ruby, Zellweger turning in a hammy yet well-judged mountain girl toughness to offset her friend’s initial fragility. There are some cloying scenes – Inman releasing a dove from his prospective father-in-law’s church and an overly Homeric blind peanut seller – but the romanticism of the story is more than balanced by the bloody massacres of the initial Petersburg battle. The slave trade is largely ignored and Winstone’s part seems underwritten, suggesting the re-edits apparently required, but the Romanian landscapes used look incredible. As screenplay writer and director, Minghella should take huge credit for imbuing Inman’s quest with a true, heroic quality, proving once again with this adaptation of a weighty novel by Charles Frazier that he is the director for filming literary sweep of scale.

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