Directed by Anthony Minghella
Produced by Sydney Pollack, Albert Berger & William Horberg
Screenplay by Anthony Minghella
Based on the book by Charles Frazier
I like Jude Law as an actor a lot. I liked him even before the yearlong Jude Law Film Festival of 2004 since he starred in two of my favorite science fiction movies, “Gattaca” and “eXistenZ”. He played one of the most unusual hired killers I’ve seen in a motion picture in “Road To Perdition” and an android gigolo in “A.I.”. So based on the strength of his past track record with me I figured that COLD MOUNTAIN would be worth watching even though I had heard and read that the movie wasn’t all that good. This was one time I should have listened. It’s not that COLD MOUNTAIN is a lousy movie. In fact, there are an awful lot of good things about it. It just doesn’t add up to a movie that’s very interesting to watch. And by the time the end credits came up I found that I really didn’t care much about what I had just watched.
The movie starts just before The Civil War. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her father, The Good Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) have just settled in the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain where they are received warmly and Ada develops an interest in the broodingly handsome Inman (Jude Law). Beats the hell out of me how they can be so interested in each other when they barely have conversations of more than twenty words at a time. In fact, Inman comes right out and says to Ada that a relationship between them would be perfect if they never had to talk. A notion that Ada agrees with. Now I thought this was a Civil War drama I was watching but the notion of a man finding a woman who doesn’t like to talk skirts dangerously into science fiction territory if you ask me.
Inman goes off to war delightedly and Ada promises to wait for him. And so she does as the town comes under the control of Teague (Ray Winstone) and his Home Guard. Supposedly their job is to protect the town but instead they pray upon the women, old men and infirm citizens who have nobody to defend them since all the able bodied men are off fighting in the war. The Good Reverend Monroe passes away and Ada goes a little nuts, dressing in her father’s coat and hat and letting the farm go to ruin. Into her life comes a down to earth, no nonsense, take charge spitfire named Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger) who rouses Ada out of the apathy she’s let herself slip into and they start working the farm together.
Meanwhile, Inman has been seriously wounded in a hideously brutal battle and he receives a letter from Ada asking him to forget the war and come home. Despite warnings from others that fellows who decide to take a long walk from the war are shot on the spot, Inman deserts and sets out on foot to return to Cold Mountain and the woman he loves.
Now this should be great material for a wonderful love story set against the backdrop of The Civil War but it’s anything but. The romance between Ada and Inman didn’t work for me because there’s no chemistry between the actors playing them at all and it doesn’t help that Nicole Kidman and Jude Law spend most of the movie apart and since we’re talking about a movie that’s almost three hours long that’s a whole lotta time. It’s almost as if Nicole Kidman is in one movie and Jude Law is in another. There’s a sex scene between the two near the end but it still didn’t convince me that these two were madly in love with each other.
This is a movie where the supporting characters are more fun than the leads and Renee Zellweger takes top acting honors here. She comes into the movie like a whirlwind and her first scene is priceless. Informed by Ada that she believes that the farm’s rooster is possessed by The Devil since it keeps attacking her, Ruby calmly walks up to the bird, wrings it’s neck and turns to Ada with a big grin and a suggestion they put the bird in a pot. Whenever Renee Zellweger shows up on the screen, the energy level of the whole movie gets bumped up several welcome notches. Jude Law’s character meets his share of characters on the road as well: Philip Seymour Hoffman as a preacher who can’t keep his business in his pants where it belongs, Giovanni Ribisi as a sneaky farmer who uses his wife and her sluttish sisters to entrap, rob and murder deserters and Natalie Portman as a lonely widow woman.
COLD MOUNTAIN is one of those movies that led me for the longest time to wonder why Natalie Portman kept getting work as an actress. She has one expression she wears on her face throughout this movie and it’s not a convincing one. There’s a scene where she’s about to be raped by Union soldiers and I give the other actors in the scene credit for keeping straight faces during Portman’s horribly unconvincing hysterics.
What’s good about the movie? Well, Nicole Kidman is as usual, almost supernaturally beautiful here. Even under all the hardships her character goes through she continues to glow with an angelic aura. Her scenes with Renee Zellweger are extremely good and have more conviction than her scenes with Jude Law. The scenery is gorgeous and the way the whole movie is photographed is just terrific. This is a movie worth watching just for the cinematography alone. And the opening fifteen minutes has one of the most terrifying battles I’ve ever seen on the screen. I suppose that knowing he was only going to have one big battle in the movie, the director decided to go all out and he certainly does. It’s a brutally realistic depiction of men killing each other and after seeing it you can readily understand why Inman decides to say the hell with the war and goes home.
What’s wrong with this movie? The lack of chemistry between the supposed leads. Ray Winstone’s badguy Teague. There’s no reason for him to be in this movie save to provide a threat to Nicole Kidman’s character and he plays the character on the level of an old silent movie villain. I half expected him to be twirling his mustache every time he showed up. And one of his minions is an acrobatic albino sharpshooter who seems more like a villain you’d find in “The Wild Wild West” television show than a realistic Civil War drama. The uneven pacing of the movie doesn’t help due to the nature of Inman’s journey. The movie is less a unified and complete story and more of a series of incidents strung together.
So after all this, should you see COLD MOUNTAIN? If you’re a fan of Jude Law, Nicole Kidman or Renee Zellweger you’ll probably enjoy this one. It didn’t work for me as a love story or as a drama. I enjoyed the supporting performances and some of the situations Inman finds himself in during his journey are interesting but taken as a whole, I couldn’t recommend this movie as anything other than a time waster on a slow Sunday afternoon if you’re snowed in.
Rated R: There are scenes of violence here that are depicted realistically as well as a graphic sex scene between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. I should also mention that there’s a scene where some soldiers threaten a baby that I found very uncomfortable watching. I think that using a baby in a movie in such a manner is a cheap way for the filmmakers to show what despicable bastards the soldiers are and we could have gotten that impression from their attempted rape of the Natalie Portman character.