Sunday, 23 October 2011

Movie Review: Cold Mountain (2003)


A sprawling epic of the Civil War, Cold Mountain is an old-fashioned grand romance set against the backdrop of a brutal war, with classic themes of hope, survival, and the ultimate triumph of the human spirit against barbarous adversity.

Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) and his daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) relocate from the deep South to the small town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina, where the crisp air is healthier for the Reverend's ailing health. Ada is immediately attracted to the quiet and awkward but resourceful outdoorsman W.P. Inman (Jude Law), and although few words pass between them, there is an undeniably mutual attraction. The Civil War breaks out; Inman joins the Confederate Army, along with most of Cold Mountain's men. For the next several years, Ada's life becomes one long patient wait for Inman to come back to her. She writes a stream of  letters, hears little in return, and lives on nothing but hope and the memory fragments from the few moments they shared prior to the war.

Inman's journey home rivals the Odyssey. He is blown up by Union troops outside Petersburg before surviving a meat grinder of a close-quarters battle, only to be shot in the neck in a subsequent skirmish. Nursed back to health, he defects the Confederate Army before encountering the lascivious Reverend Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman). Inman is eventually captured as a defector, but another skirmish with Union soldiers leaves him wounded, abandoned and chained to a gang of dead men. He is rescued again and healed by a recluse living deep in the woods. Inman next encounters the young widow Sara (Natalie Portman) and her young infant, and helps her to fend off marauding and starving Union troops before continuing his long walk home.

Meanwhile, Ada is holding on to the forlorn hope that Inman will one day return to her, and struggling to survive on her own after her father dies. Knowing nothing about running a farm, least of all how to stay alive in the harsh Cold Mountain winters, Ada is near starvation when the spirited and resourceful Ruby (Rene Zellweger) arrives at her doorstep, and the two gradually become a formidable team, surviving and thriving against the elements. The biggest threat to their well-being emerges in the form of the self-appointed Confederate home guard, under the leadership of the power-drunk Teague (Ray Winstone), who sees the Civil War as his opportunity to reclaim his family's long-lost land holdings in Cold Mountain.

Nicole Kidman manages to glow like a Hollywood star even when close to starvation, her performance adequate without being memorable. Kidman is more comfortable in the scenes when she is taking charge or falling in love, and a lot less believable as a struggling woman depending on the charity of others to survive. Jude Law, having just survived another blood-flows-in-the-streets battle in Enemy At The Gates finds himself back up to his knees in gore, and his performance is all about the determination to survive in the name of love, fending off the grim reamer countless times in his quest to fulfil his destiny with Ada.

More interesting than the two leads are two supporting actresses. Renee Zellweger won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her feisty Ruby, a bundle of positive energy that still makes plenty of room for seething anger at her father's neglect. Even more engaging is Natalie Portman, her brief 15 minutes on the screen as Sara leaving a lasting impression. Her pleading with Inman for platonic comfort in her bed is the most searing metaphorical scream of horror that the movie offers against the devastation caused by war.

The supporting cast is deep in talent, and in addition to the sage Donald Sutherland and lustful Philip Seymour Hoffman, the likes of Kathy Baker and Giovanni Ribisi provide continued texture.

Director Anthony Minghella and cinematographer John Seale mix lavish shots of surreal natural beauty in all seasons with horrific scenes of war, and Minghella keeps the drama surprisingly nimble despite the complete lack of any humour or relief from the overwhelming sense of doom surrounding both Ada and Inman.

Cold Mountain never shies away from portraying the harsh natural and man-made challenges that stand in the way of happiness, but it also never veers from the journey to ultimately find the warmth that emanates from the well-meaning human spirit.






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