Directed By: Anthony Minghella
Written By: Charles Frazier (book) / Anthony Minghella (screenplay)
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Donald Sutherland,
Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman,
MPAA: Rated R for violence & sexuality
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Hollywood must be running out of wars to protest. Don't get me wrong, wars are bad, no argument there. But depicting the American Civil War using revisionist-friendly rhetoric and broad, elementary school generalisations isn't the way to show it. Wars are bad, but they're also complicated. Of course, the only people Cold Mountain really wants to sway are those in the Academy. From what I've seen, that agenda will surely succeed, unless I've grossly overestimated the manipulative powers of this movie or underestimated the collective intelligence of Hollywood's elite. Mmm... I'm predicting 6 Oscar nominations.
What's that, you say? You were led to believe that Cold Mountain was a romantic adventure about a brave hero fighting his way back to his one true love? Oh, you must have seen the preview trailer. I'm not certain which movie the copywriter for that trailer saw, but it wasn't Cold Mountain.
It seems that some clarification is called for. Okay, fair enough. Cold Mountain stars Jude Law as Inman. He's a soldier fighting for the Confederacy. Well, actually, he's a soldier who wants to stop fighting. Inman has seen the horrors of battle, and no longer believes in "the cause". The main "cause" he no longer believes in is the one proclaiming that he go out and get killed by the enemy. Who could blame him for that? Anyway, he decides to desert his Southern compatriots and make his way back to the town of Cold Mountain. Coincidentally, the South ends up losing the war. Go figure!
Inman has an additional rationalization for self-preservation in the form of Ada, a woman he had a fleeting acquaintance with back home. Their encounters usually involved a tray of cool drinks. You could say that she quenched his thirst on more than one occasion. Romantic? Sounds like true love to me! Nicole Kidman plays Ada, a single southern belle who's never done a lick of real work in here life. Yep, it's 1863 and Ada is a beautiful, single woman in her mid-thirties. Sure, in 2003 that's no big deal, but 1863??? "Old Maid" alert! Since Ada is not equipped to be on her own, it's not long before, tragically, she is.
Attempting to make things even more depressing for everyone are the so-called "bad guys" of the movie, an evil posse out hunting for deserters and those who would harbor them. You see, the penalty that awaits a deserter like Inman, should he be caught, is death. Believe it or not, that's how all the non-evil posses would handle things, too! In this movie, the posse has to be evil for the plot to work. They stand between Inman and Ada, and Inman is this movie's big hero. Apparently, it's perfectly honorable to be a spineless, snivelling, yellow-bellied, lily-livered coward as long as you have an evil posse after you. Have I mentioned that the South ends up losing the war?
Luckily, the overall dreariness of Ada's and Inman's situation, as well as the audience's, is soon brightened by the appearance of Ruby, played by Renée Zellweger. Ruby is a real pistol of a mountain girl. She's tough, she's gruff, and she's downright adorable. She sees that Ada need help, in more ways than one. Ruby knows how to work the fields and run the farm, and sets to showing Ada a thing or two about both. Much "odd-couple" type merriment and heartfelt female-bonding ensues.
Yes, despite its historically-revised and factually-challenged screenplay, Cold Mountain still offers some good entertainment. The direction and cinematography are wonderful, and the acting is superb. Especially good are performances by Natalie Portman and Philip Seymour Hoffman in small supporting roles. The standout performance is by Renée Zellweger, even though she does nothing more than scrunch her face into "dried-apple-head" mode and talk like she's auditioning for The Dukes of Hazzard. The result? A sure Oscar nomination for Renée, and probably a win. Yeeeehaaaaa!
Don't be surprised when the Academy fawns all over this one. When given the choice, they seem to prefer quasi-historical films, revised to the point that they only serve to placate and misinform, over anything resembling actual fact. Put simply, as a historical drama, Cold Mountain is predictably dramatic, but hardly historical. Should you see Cold Mountain? That's your choice to make!