Review: Cold Mountain (2003)

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Robin Clifford

Dec 12, 2003, 3:18:16 PM12/12/03
"Cold Mountain"

The town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina is seething
with rebellious glee, in 1861, when the Confederate
States of America declare war on the anti-slavery
Union. This historic moment, the object of joy for
most, causes nothing but pain for P.W. Inman (Jude
Law) when he finds the woman, Ada Monroe, that he can
loveand live with forever but must, instead, go off to
war. But, when he is severely wounded in the carnage
of the infamous Battle of Petersburg, he makes his way
to the only place he can feel safe, "Cold Mountain."

Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella adapts the
National Book Award winning novel by Charles Frazier
and brings to the screen a love story that is also
about courage, loyalty, revenge and the dangerous
world of a country near the end of a crushing civil

Beautiful, spoiled Ada has moved to rural Cold
Mountain with her preacher father (Donald Sutherland)
from her genteel life in Virginia. She spies a
handsome young man, Inman, and figures out a way to
meet him. Immediately, they are both smitten and a
budding romance begins but the herald of war will tear
them and their newborn love apart. Inman looks back
from the sea of gray uniforms for one last look at his

Jump ahead to 1864 and the months long siege at
Petersburg, Virginia is about to, quite literally,
blow apart when Union troops dig a 586-foot tunnel
directly under the Confederate trenches and pack the
mine with explosives. The ensuing blast rips through
the rebel line and creates a crater spanning 130 feet.
The Yankee troops, not the ones trained for this
attack, flood into the crater and can't escape. The
rebel troops begin a slaughter that will take the
lives of 4000 Union soldiers with a loss of 1000 of
their own. Inman is one of those wounded in the
battle, shot through the neck and, when he can walk,
packs up and walks away from the army, heading home.
Along the way he meets a bevy of remarkable people -
some good and some very bad.

Back home, Ada suffers a tragic loss when her father
suddenly dies. Rev. Monroe was not very good with
money and Ada has never had to fend for herself. As
the war drags on, she scrabbles to survive, even
grubbing for potatoes in the frozen ground. Until, one
day, when a smart, capable, outspoken drifter, Ruby
Thewes (Renee Zellweger), shows up and tells Ada that
she's there to help. Ada begins a journey to a place
where she sheds her past helplessness and becomes an
able, self-reliant woman.

Inman is the Civil War equivalent of Homer's Odysseus
as he treks across a land bled dry by the ravages of
the war. He alternately meets people who offer him
kindness, food and care and others who get him drunk
in order to collect the bounty imposed on deserters.
This is where "Cold Mountain" loses the flow of the
book and, instead, provides short episodes that bring
in all manner of characters. He falls upon the
doorstep of a healer who nurses him back to health. He
teams up, for a short time, with a fallen preacher
named Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who is obsessed,
alternately, with hedonistic pleasure and the state of
his bowels. They are betrayed by Junior (Giovanni
Rabisi), a ribald moonshiner who uses his wife and her
sister to seduce deserters, drug them and turn them
over to the Home Guard.

After escaping the chain gang, Inman falls upon the
home of Sara, a frantic, lonely young woman with a
very sick baby and a husband far away at war. She
takes him into her home and even seeks chaste comfort
in his arms. He saves her from the lustful clutches of
renegade Yankee soldiers on a looting spree and
continues on his way.

Back at the home front, Ada resists the attention of
Teague (Ray Winstone), the head of the local home
guard and a martinet who uses his legal power for his
own gain. Then, a blast out of Ruby's past shows up in
the form of her long estranged father, Stobrod
(Brendan Gleeson), a happy go luck fiddler who shirks
any real responsibility. He and his good-natured but
dim partner Pangle (Ethan Suplee) are being hunted by
Teague and his killer henchman, Bosie (Charlie
Hunnman), exercising vigilante justice whenever they
These physical and symbolic journeys come to a head
when Inman and Ada get together once again after years
apart. Their reunion is steeped in hope and tragedy.

Jude Law never gets beyond two dimensions in his
depiction of Inman. The man is soft spoken and humble
and wants nothing more to return home and hold the
woman he has loved, unrequited, for years. But Law is
a bit too taciturn and I never embrace the emotions of
his character. Nicole Kidman has the ethereal beauty
(captured lovingly by lenser John Seale) of Ada but
she, too, fails to give much dimension to the woman.

Renee Zellweger gives a solid, articulated performance
as the feisty, capable Ruby. She comes on like
gangbusters and does not let up once. With her
ever-updating list of rules, she helps educate Ada in
worldlier and less academic ways but also shows
herself to be intelligent, too. I would put the
actress on the short list for support attention.

The plethora of character actors playing mostly cameo
roles is an embarrassment of riches. From veteran
thespians Donald Sutherland, Kathy Baker, James
Gammon, Ray Winstone and Brendan Gleeson to a gaggle
of young actors like Natalie Portman, Eileen Atkins,
Charlie Hunnman and Jena Malone, "Cold Mountain" does
not lack for talent. The episodic nature of the film
never really allows any of the characters to develop
into anything substantial, though.

Techs are good with Seale doing an exemplary job
overall and, in particular, with the Battle of the
Crater sequence. Costume designer Ann Roth recreates
the look of the period dress from the genteel elegance
of silk skirts and flowered bonnets to the rough spun
clothes of the rebel troops and the blue serge
uniforms of the Union soldiers. Production design,
staged primarily in Romania under the guidance of oft
Oscar nominated Dante Ferretti, gives the film a
realistic look though the privations suffered at the
home front are glossed over in favor of building Ada's

I was quite taken with Charles Frazier's introspective
look at life during the Civil War and the individual
will to survive. I fell into Inman's journey as he
trekked along to his ultimate destiny. Anthony
Minghella changed the story into a series of vignettes
showing good people as good and bad people as bad with
little shading. It is a rich looking film with a
wonderful performance by Renee Zellweger. I give it a

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Laura Clifford

Dec 15, 2003, 5:33:52 PM12/15/03

Bred for a cultural urban life, Ada Munroe (Nicole Kidman, "The Human
Stain") is called by her father, the Reverend Munroe (Donald Sutherland,
"The Italian Job") to his North Carolina farm just before the advent of the
Civil War. Coaxed by neighbor Sally (Kathy Baker, "The Cider House
Rules"), who says that any man she speaks to will clear Sally's top field
for the privilege, Ada brings refreshment to shy laborer W.P. Inman (Jude
Law, "Road to Perdition"). The war interrupts the beginning of a
courtship, though, and Ada and Inman suffer many hardships as Inman
struggles to make his way back to "Cold Mountain."

The highly anticipated "Cold Mountain," adapted from the celebrated novel
by Charles Frazier, arrives after a lengthy and much publicized Romanian
shoot (the breakdown of Jude Law's marriage, Kidman's successful lawsuit
against papers accusing her of being the cause, Zellweger's romance with
costar Jack White of the White Stripes) and disappoints. Essentially,
"Cold Mountain" is the extended delay of the consummation of an attraction
between its very pretty stars, goosed up with episodic appearances by high
profile supporting players and a very good performance from Rene Zellweger.
Those who found writer/director Anthony Minghella's "The English Patient"
lovely to look at but ponderous and overstated are likely to feel the same
way about "Cold Mountain."

The film begins excitingly, with a breathtaking recreation of the Battle of
Petersburg that doesn't spare the blood and mud. After the Yankees
successfully mine Southern trenches from underneath, resulting in a
spectacular and brutal explosion, Minghella brings us into the horror of
hand to hand combat. Meanwhile, back home in Cold Mountain, the former
land owner Teague (Ray Winstone, "Sexy Beast") has formed a Home Guard with
right hand man Bosie (Charlie Hunnam, "Nicholas Nickleby"), but instead of
protecting home turf they terrorize residents in their relentless pursuit
of deserters and those that harbor them.

Ada's situation immediately becomes precarious. Her beloved father dies,
leaving her penniless and alone on a farm she's ill-suited to tend.
Embarrassed by the town's charity, she scrapes by, a ghostly presence who
continuously writes to Inman, begging him to return. The ever resourceful
Sally sends Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger, "Chicago") to Ada to help her run
the farm. Rustic Ruby announces that she's no servant, takes stock of the
place and begins to toughen up Ada with manual labor like a Scarlett O'Hara
who never left Tara. In turn, Ada softens Ruby with music and literature.
Teague, who fancies Ada for himself, keeps a watchful eye on the ladies and
they and their neighbor Sally will suffer his villainy as their menfolk
desert a losing cause.

One of those men is Inman, who is read Ada's letter while recuperating from
a bullet wound in a makeshift Yankee hospital. During his long trek home,
Inman will encounter a hedonistic clergyman (Philip Seymour Hoffman,
"Owning Mahowney") obsessed with his regularity, a devious backwoods farmer
(Giovanni Ribisi, "Lost in Translation") living with a bevy of oversexed
women, Maddy the goat lady (Eileen Atkins, "The Hours"), a natural
philosopher who nurses him back from yet another wound and Sara (Natalie
Portman, "Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones"), the widowed wife
of a Confederate soldier with a new baby. When he finally arrives home, it
is to face yet another battle.

Minghella imbues his adaptation with post 9/11 sentiments ('I imagine God
is weary of being called down on both sides of an argument' Inman remarks
to the Reverend) and John Woo-religious and Sam Raimi-portentous bird
imagery (Inman catches a white dove inside Munroe's chapel, Ada sees a
vision of Inman returning amidst flying crows in Sally's well), but his
central story rings hollow. Even Ruby's reconciliation with her musical
father Stobrod (Brendan Gleeson, "Gangs of New York") feels false, his
former abusiveness forgotten after a display of roguish charm and a few
songs. The film's conclusion and epilogue are a particularly egregious
collection of cliches.

All of this is very beautifully photographed by John Seale ("The English
Patient")(a wonderful shot of Ada playing the piano on the back of a cart
as it travels down a country road is almost surreal), and Dante Ferretti's
("The Age of Innocence") production design rings true, but costume designer
Ann Roth ("The Talented Mr. Ripley") can't resist turning the life-hardened
Ada out like she's just left a Ralph Lauren boutique for her reunion with

Law's performance is almost too restrained. Kidman fairs better, doing a
particularly nice job of genteel inebriation after celebrating Christmas,
but she's completely upstaged by the comic antics of Zellweger, whose tough
pluck and prickle give "Cold Mountain" a much needed dose of warmth and
entertainment. The huge supporting cast has many standouts. Kathy Baker
has a strong arc as Sally. Natalie Portman throws off her Amidala cloak
and delivers a really fine portrait of a desperate and lonely woman and
Eileen Atkins also makes the most of her limited screen time. Hoffman is
amusing, but this role showcases little but his lack of vanity. Ethan
Suplee ("Remember the Titans") is touching as Stobrod's not too bright
companion Pangle. The film also features James Gammon ("Life or Something
Like It") as Sally's husband Esco, Lucas Black ("Sling Blade") as young
soldier Oakley, Melora Walters ("Magnolia") as Ribisi's lusty wife Lila and
Cillian Murphy ("28 Days") as a Yankee soldier.

"Cold Mountain" may be marketed as a literary adaptation, but in reality
it's an artfully presented chick flick.


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Steve Rhodes

Dec 15, 2003, 6:00:18 PM12/15/03
A film review by Steve Rhodes
Copyright 2003 Steve Rhodes
RATING (0 TO ****): **

Two gorgeous actors with zero on-screen chemistry, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman
star in this year's big Christmas release, COLD MOUNTAIN. Based on a Charles
Frazier novel, it is written and directed by Anthony Minghella, who garnered a
writing nomination and a directing Oscar for THE ENGLISH PATIENT, which is
surprising given how inert this latest picture is.

This Civil War romance and anti-war drama is a snoozer that is long, literary
and lifeless. Inman (Law) says that he is "like every fool sent out to fight
with a flag and a lie." After meeting Ada (Kidman) very briefly in the
beginning, he deserts from the Confederate army and spends most of the rest of
the movie trying to get back to her. Meanwhile back home, Ada and her comedic
sidekick, Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger), are busy fixing up Ada's old farm.
When the lovers finally are reunited in the last part of the last act, their
meeting is too convenience and not realistically acted. Despite all of the
Oscar buzz about their acting in COLD MOUNTAIN, Law and Kidman are so stoic
that they might as well have sent in their headshots rather that wasting their
time showing up on the set.

The film's few battles are so confusing that it's never clear who is fighting
whom, but Minghella does create a couple of impressive sequences. Looking like
a rugby game in the mud, the opening fight is a blur of blood and bodies.
Mostly, however, the movie is one long road trip, as Inman meets various
strangers on his long journey home. The women he comes upon, including a lonely
widow named Sara (Natalie Portman), want to offer him more than just
companionship, but he stays faithful to Ada, a woman with whom he has shared at
most a few dozen words of conversation. The strangest of Inman's encounters,
which plays like a bizarre DELIVERANCE outtake, occurs when a mountain man
(Giovanni Ribisi) and his sexually needy family offer Inman and his new
traveling companion (Philip Seymour Hoffman) some erotic but dangerous

Mainly the movie tries so hard to be literary that it doesn't take enough time
to be compelling or convincing. With its frequent use of voice-over for the key
points, the movie-going experience feels more like listening to a long book on
tape than watching a motion picture.

The film is consistently beautiful, and the production values are uniformly
high. Moving as slow as molasses in winter, the movie offers little more that
candy for our eyes. Trying to stay awake during its long 156 minutes is a real
trial. About the best that can be said of COLD MOUNTAIN is that it ends
completely predictably but quite well.

COLD MOUNTAIN runs 2:36. The film is rated R for "violence and sexuality" and
would be acceptable for older teenagers.

The film opens nationwide in the United States on Christmas Day, 2003. In the
Silicon Valley, it will be showing at the AMC theaters, the Century theaters
and the Camera Cinemas.



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