Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain is Miramax's blatant entry for the Best Picture Oscar of 2003. It's a sweeping, highly romanticized, Civil War epic directed by Oscar winner Anthony Minghella (The English Patient), and features three big stars; Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renée Zellweger. Filled with battle scenes and high drama, this movie just screams, "I'm a Best Picture contender!" As it happens, although this very obvious statement might repel some, I think Cold Mountain lives up to its own hype and is in fact one of the best pictures of 2003.
It tells the story of Inman (Jude Law), a Confederate soldier who deserts from the army after a near death experience at the bloody battle of Petersburg. This intense battle scene rivals Saving Private Ryan's opening moments in terms of violence and mayhem. Deciding that he's had enough of war, Inman sets out for his home on Cold Mountain where he hopes that Ada (Nicole Kidman) will be waiting for him.
While Inman has been suffering the realities of war, the genteel southern belle Ada has been forced, following the death of her preacher father (Donald Sutherland), to learn how to survive on her own. She does a very poor job of it until colorful drifter Ruby (Zellwegger) shows up on her farm and offers to help.
The movie follows the two storylines of Inman and Ada's journeys with flashbacks to how they met and fell in love intermingled. Inman's travels bring him into contact with an assortment of different characters, adventures, and well known actors in minor roles, including a small but well played part by Natalie Portman as a young widow with a baby. Ada's journey is more internal as she learns to become more independent.
While all three of the leads give good performances, it is Zellwegger who steals the most scenes and stands the best shot for an Oscar. As Ruby she stomps around Ada's farm spouting colorful lines and providing comic relief amongst the heavy drama. By contrast, Kidman plays it very restrained and Law's Inman is more of an observer to the events going on around him.
Minghella and his Cinematography partner John Seale (English Patient, Talented Mr. Ripley), ensure that if nothing else, the movie looks fantastic. The battle scenes are vivid as are the quieter moments, particularly those at the end in the snow filled mountains.
The only weakness I found was that the villains of the movie, the Home Guard who track down Deserters, are so one-dimensional. They have a very specific plot function to perform, but little character besides just being 'the villains'.
At 2 and half hours in length, some may find Cold Mountain too long. Are there scenes that could have been trimmed? Of course there are, but personally I think the film would have been weaker if they had been cut.
Up against The Return of the King, it is doubtful that Cold Mountain will take home the Oscar, despite Miramax's best efforts, but in my opinion it at least deserves a nomination.
Renee Zellwegger in Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain is the most over rated movie since The English Patient! It is unoriginal and poorly written. It looks good but is really very forgettable.
Ada is nothing more than a Scarlet O'Hara wannabe. Early in the movie, she is a flirtatious southern belle. Within a few moments of eye batting and silly conversation, she convinces Inman to clear an entire field, even though they just met for the first time. After her father dies, she is left destitute on her beautiful plantation. The only thing missing was Ada standing on a hill proclaiming that; "As God as my witness, I will never go hungry again!"
Scott pointed out that the bad guys are one-dimensional. What he should have wrote is that all the men in this movie are one-dimensional. Ada grows as a person. Ruby deals with her father issues. Inman walks a hell of a long way just to get laid. All of the guys in this movie are either morally reprehensible or mentally challenged. I put Inman in the latter category.
Jude Law walks around the entire movie with a blank expression. I had no idea what was going on with this character, and after the first hour, I stopped caring altogether. In the beginning of the movie, Inman is shy and indecisive. At the end of the movie, he is shy and indecisive. Ada makes the first sexual move, and had he been more decisive he would have not gotten shot by the albino. So after three years of war and travel this guy has not grown?
Yes, Ruby is the best thing about this movie. Her first scene with the chicken is classic. The movie should have been told entirely from her perspective. Unfortunately, she is the supporting character, and we are left with a half-baked Scarlett O'Hara and an Inman who is just plain half-baked.
Jude Law in Cold Mountain.
Cold Mountain is an old-fashioned romantic epic of the brand Hollywood rarely makes these days. I agree with Eric that it isn't all that original (see Gone with the Wind or Raintree County or any number of other Civil War epics) but it is better than he claims it to be. Scott, on the other hand, oversold it. The truth lies somewhere in between.
I enjoyed the way the plot was structured. Ada and Inman's stories are happening simultaneously and the movie jumps back and forth between them, while also including flash-backs of their meeting and brief romance. It follows the format of Charles Frazier's 1997 novel, which alternated chapters between the two main characters.
The entire cast is good but Zellweger gets the juiciest part. She won the Supporting Actress Oscar as Ruby Thewes. A part designed to stand out with her colorful vocabulary and unique way of stomping around. It is the closest thing to a female version of the character type Walter Brennan won three Supporting Actor Oscars for playing that I've ever seen. Her Appalachian accent is a bit overdone perhaps but it works for the character. “Every piece of this is man's bullshit. They call this war a cloud over the land. But they made the weather and then they stand in the rain and say 'Shit, it's raining!'”
Eric does have a point about the lack of character development in Inman. He remains a bit of an enigma throughout the movie. I think this was intentional however as this is really Ada's story. Even the scenes of Inman's perilous journey could almost be happening in her imagination as she pictures her man returning to her. To be honest I didn't think Ada changed much over the course of the movie either, except to become more self-sufficient. But then this is a sweeping romantic love story set against a turbulent war, not a character study.
Scott mentioned the villains being completely one-dimensional. I agree, but then they are there for one purpose only; to terrorize the protagonists. The scene where they torture the kind neighbor lady and kill her husband and sons right before her eyes is a bit over-the-top in its blatant cruelty. This isn't subtle stuff but it does evoke a visceral reaction in the viewer.
The one scene that is even less subtle and more overcooked than this one is the soft-core love-making session between Kidman and Law. It is cheesy as hell. I actually laughed out loud during it. The way it is lit and shot is quite unintentionally funny. In my mind I could practically hear the director giving instructions and telling them when to change positions.
Despite its flaws Cold Mountain is incredibly romantic, tragic as hell, and peopled with colorful characters. Ten years after its release I thoroughly enjoyed visiting Cold Mountain and wish Hollywood would attempt more old-fashioned epics of this sort.
Photos © Copyright Miramax (2003)