When Ada Monroe’s (Nicole Kidman) widower minister father (Donald Sutherland) moves from Charleston to a small southern village, she briefly meets young Inman Jude Law), and each senses an instant attraction. They barely have time for a first kiss when Inman is off to war as a Confederate soldier. Absence makes the heart grow fonder, and although most of their letters never reach the recipient, they long for each other amidst the terrifying circumstances of the war. Inman is badly wounded, Ada is left poor and hungry when her father dies. Into her life comes young and pragmatic Ruby (Renee Zellweger), to show by example what a young woman can achieve besides knowing the gentle arts, with the help of nature and her own hands. As Inman tries to head home to Ada at Cold Mountain, the war continues to interrupt his journey, and the hatred bred of the war exacts its vicious price on all of them.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Anthony Minghella is an Englishman – the Englishman who explored mostly restrained love in The English Patient, where the lovers are conflicted against the backdrop of war in the mid 1940s. Cold Mountain explores lovers in a restrained romance even further back in time, but still in the setting of a war, this time the American Civil War of the mid 1800s.
This thematic connection is interesting because it might say something about Minghella’s deep-seated fascination for human behaviour under certain conditions. I’m not referring only to how the lovers behave, which is pretty much the same in any setting and with any peoples. I refer to the behaviour of those around them, both in the direct line of fire and those on the periphery of the central love story.
Take such diverse characters as Renee Zellweger’s pragmatic and forgiving Ruby, and Ray Winstone’s ferociously patriotic and primal Teague. The former puts humanity in as bright a light as the latter puts it in the dark. Ruby is forced to adapt by harsh circumstance and comes out with earthy nobility, while Teague’s ugly side is encouraged and teased out by the circumstance of the civil war.
These are just as much the people the film is about as the central characters of Jude Law’s Inman and Nicole Kidman’s Ada Monroe. Yet Minghella is quoted as saying he doesn’t necessarily have an interest in war stories. No, but it’s not so much a war story as a symbolic story in which war is a crucial ingredient: it provides the many obstacles in Inman’s path, as well as the factor that changes Ada. The epic nature of their story is true to life, reminding us of the extraordinary wound the American Civil War caused, how long it lasted and why it is a constant source of reference for filmmakers. Minghella’s adaptation of the novel is as determined to create this sense of human context as it is to recreate with ghastly accuracy the details of the setting. The latter shows great craftsmanship (hand make up continuity excepted), while the former seeps into our consciousness through a million nuances and subtleties, spoken words and unspoken feelings.
Cold Mountain is a major achievement, studded with star performances from its entire cast, offering those who are prepared to experience it, a painfully accessible story of lives that are nothing but insecure deals struck with a fate that’s indifferent to the outcome.
Review by Louise Keller:
An epic love story set against the unforgiving backdrop of the Civil War, Cold Mountain is the miraculous blending of harsh, physical conflict with the most romantic and poetic of longings. Lovingly adapted from Charles Frazier’s novel, Anthony Minghella has structured the screenplay flawlessly, allowing the storytelling rhythms from flashback to the present, back and forth, to reach its crescendo, as Inman and Ada are reunited and become one.
It’s a story about courage, loyalty and valour, as these two opposites are tested on their physical and spiritual journeys. From the decorative idle life of a lady whose sole purpose is to use her feminine wiles (‘I can embroider, but can’t darn’), to a survivor whose physical toils enable her to live on the land, Nicole Kidman’s Ada is breathtaking. The epitome of femininity, Kidman’s Scarlett O’Hara-like transformation evolves naturally, as necessity becomes the mother of invention. Her breathy narration that reveals the intense passions of her heart, links us emotionally to Jude Law’s Inman, whose unerring determination counters obstacle after obstacle.
When we first meet Inman, he is a man of few words, but the thousands of wordless moments between he and Ada manifest themselves to become as priceless as a bag of diamonds. What appears to be a clumsy courtship escalates into an obsessive and all-consuming emotional hunger that connects them absolutely.
While this is not a civil war film, the scenes of terrifying authenticity in the battlefields, are crucial in our understanding the impact of this bloodiest of conflicts in America and the ensuing state of mind. We are in the bunkers with the soldiers as the underground explosion’s force shakes the soldiers’ world, but learn that life as a deserter is just as treacherous. Renee Zellweger’s no-nonsense Ruby is a gem. Hers is the tangible, earthy character that becomes the catalyst that sets Ada onto her path of survival. From her unforgettable dramatic entrance, when she picks up a troublesome rooster and rings its neck without so much as blinking an eye, Ruby brings Ada down to earth with a shock. But as their friendship grows, it is clear that the exchange goes both ways, and Ruby’s eyes are opened up to the possibility of dreaming.
A hand-picked cast including Donald Sutherland as Ada’s father, Philip Seymour Hoffman as the lecherous pastor on the run, Natalie Portman as the abandoned young mother, Ray Winstone’s vicious guard who mercilessly hunts down deserters and Brendan Gleeson’s jovial fiddler (and Ruby’s father) add substance to a string of crucial supporting roles. Visually, Cold Mountain dazzles, through the keen cinematic eye of Minghella’s Oscar winning collaborator John Seale, taking us from the battlefields to the majestic vistas and beauty of the mountains, forests and valleys.
It’s a joy to become involved in every intricate detail, on which such meticulous attention has been spent – the costumes, the production design, and Gabriel Yared’s music that captures the essence of every emotion. An involving, moving and magnificent production that deserves every accolade, Cold Mountain is consummate filmmaking at its best.
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NICOLE KIDMAN INTERVIEW
JOHN SEALE INTERVIEW
COLD MOUNTAIN (MA)
CAST: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Natalie Portman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Brendan Gleeson, Charlie Hunnam, Ray Winstone, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone, Kathy Baker, Ray Winstone, Donald Sutherland, Jena Malone
PRODUCER: Albert Berger, William Horberg, Sydney Pollack, Ron Yerxa
DIRECTOR: Anthony Minghella
SCRIPT: Anthony Minghella (novel by Charles Frazier)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: John Seale ASC, ACS
EDITOR: Walter Murch
MUSIC: Gabriel Yared
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Dante Ferretti
RUNNING TIME: 150 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Buena Vista International
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 1, 2004
VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: BVHE
VIDEO RELEASE: July 7, 2004