NOW PLAYING: Cold Mountain

Posted: Monday, February 02, 2004

Jude Law must be an exceptionally resilient actor. How else can you explain the fact that he's been beat up by some of the most famous and infamous directors in Hollywood, and he keeps coming back for more. Law has been abused by everyone from Steven Spielberg to David Cronenberg, and now with reigning epic-romance king, Anthony Minghella, for the second time. In Minghella's Cold Mountain, Law makes a torturous journey, waste-deep in blood and human depravity, through the tortured landscape that was the ruined South at the end of the Civil War, all to get home to a true love he barely knows. C'mon, give the guy a break!

Cold Mountain is an intense, beautiful drama. It is neither a love story or an adventure story in that it is both at once. Anthony Minghella has proved once again that he is a master of this cross-genre storytelling. Jude Law is Inman, an ordinary young man from Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Nicole Kidman is Ada Monroe, a preacher's daughter who catches Inman's eye and whose inner strength provides the center for the entire picture. Unfortunately for our lovers, North Carolina joins her sister states in secession, taking Inman and the rest of the upstanding young men far away to fight, leaving Cold Mountain at the mercy of an unscrupulous band of "home guard." The sudden death of her father leaves Ada, a proper lady with few practical skills, with the heavy burden of making sure her meager estate can survive the winter and the war. When, as the war is winding down, it becomes apparent to Inman that his death would be meaningless in the grand scheme, he decides the leave the service of the Confederacy to make his way home to Ada, hunted by the North as a rebel, and the South as a traitor. The movie cleverly cuts back and forth between these two struggles, creating the semblance of a strong relationship between two characters who share very little screen time.

Along the way, both Inman and Ada encounter a string of memorable characters, including Natalie Portman, Giovonni Ribisi, and, most notably and most indelible, Rene Zellwegger as Ruby, a local girl who provides Ada with much needed support, and who represents the true heart and soul of the South. Zellwegger's performance, though some have sniped "too broad," is right on. Rene is having the last laugh at her critics, however, having already won the Golden Globe for her performance, and looking forward to the Oscars in February. Similarly, Jude Law does an incredible job in his role as the disillusioned soldier trying to make it home. Law is proving that he can handle anything put in front of him, be it comedy, drama, or even science fiction. Look for him in the upcoming throwback to the movie serials of the forties and fifties in Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Nicole Kidman is also excellent and it is a little surprising that she was skipped by Oscar, having won last year so handily for The Hours.

In fact, the Oscar nominations were a big surprise for Miramax, Cold Mountain's studio and chief advocate. For the first time in eleven years, Miramax does not have a film in contention for Best Picture. Yes, the film was nominated for Best Actor, Best Supporting Actress, and a couple of other technical awards, but I feel it's gotten a bad rap. The film was heartfelt, stirring, disturbing, and hopeful, and yet it was passed over for lesser, though still good, fare such as Seabiscuit and Master & Commander. Cold Mountain was more than just a movie, just an evening out. This was a beautiful, well-crafted, thoughtful history lesson, with plenty of human drama and action to fill in the slow spots. Minghella, who achieved the herculean task of adapting Charles Frazier's novel, (a task some said couldn't be done) was similarly snubbed after his brilliantly dark adaptation of Patricia Highsmith's The Talented Mr. Ripley.

It's a shame that Cold Mountain, a film so deserving of them, will not be able to garner all the accolades it should. Minghella, who had to endure the thought of Miramax's pulling out after rival studios bailed on the distribution concept, deserves better. Cold Mountain, his fourth major project, is just as good, though different, as The English Patient. Cold though it might be, the Mountain leaves me with a warm feeling. Grade: A+

Cold Mountain is rated R for language, intense battle violence, nudity, and sexual situations.

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