• Post category:Movies
  • Post last modified:January 20, 2022

Cold Mountain: Stuck in a Rut


They are certainly stuck in a rut, the two lead characters in this film. He’s off to war, trying to get home, while she’s trying to cope with small means. Not much seems to change as the months and years go by. Strange then how easily time flies by when you’re watching this film. Director Anthony Minghella, who made another great epic, The English Patient (1996), knows how to get these elephantine projects moving.

Off to fight for the Confederacy
Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her preacher father (Donald Sutherland) leave Charleston at the outbreak of the Civil War and move to a small place in North Carolina called Cold Mountain. There, Ada gets to know the quiet, shy W.P. Inman (Jude Law) and it’s love at first sight. Well, sort of. They don’t have much time to spend together because the war eventually reaches Cold Mountain and Inman goes off to fight for the Confederacy, promising to come back to Ada as soon as he can. On the battlefield he learns that war is hell and after being injured he decides to desert. Heading for Cold Mountain, Inman is constantly in danger of being shot for his crime but the memory of Ada is what keeps him going, just as it did when he was lying in the trenches. In the meantime, things are equally dour for Ada. Her father has passed away and unfortunately she has as little talent for survival as she has money. She gets by with a little help from friendly neighbors while waiting for the war to end and Inman to come home.

Then Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger) shows up. She’s a young woman who dresses like a man, talks like a man and works like a man. She knows how to get Ada’s farm up and running and offers her help in exchange for meals and a bed. As the war draws to a close, it only seems to become more and more dangerous for Ada and Inman in their quests for survival and love, as well as for the acquaintances they have made.

Bad seeds on both sides
We easily sympathize with the central characters and the actors don’t have to work hard for it. They’re separated for much of the action; Kidman and Law give fine performances and we don’t need them to dominate the film even more. We believe in their love and realize just as much as they do that, since they barely know each other, it is somewhat unreasonable. But they need it as something to hold on to as long as they’re apart and circumstances are this dire.

The film is also one of the darkest portrayals of the Civil War I’ve seen; there are no heroes here, the battles are horrifying and undignified, and there’s plenty of bad seeds on both sides. We see starving Union soldiers threaten to kill a baby and rape its mother unless she gives them everything she owns, and Confederate home guardsmen murder anyone who protects their loved ones from going to war. There’s so much sorrow and brutality that when the happy ending finally comes, we’re grateful to see at least some of the characters make it to the end. Particularly moving is the plight of Kathy Baker’s character, one of Ada’s most unfortunate neighbors.

The film is beautifully and convincingly shot in Romania (a location that works very well for the project) and remarkably well-paced, always building emotionally, as well as in intensity. Zellweger received the most praise among the cast members and she certainly grows into her tough character, becoming less of a caricature thanks to a complex relationship with her father (Brendan Gleeson).

On occasion, Anthony Minghella has been compared to David Lean. They are both that rare thing, movie directors who can paint on a big canvas without falling, as they say in England, ass over teakettle. 

Cold Mountain 2003-Britain-Romania-Italy-U.S. 155 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Albert Berger, William Horberg, Sydney Pollack, Ron Yerxa. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. Novel: Charles Frazier. Cinematography: John Seale. Music: Gabriel Yared. Songs: “Scarlet Tide” (T-Bone Burnett, Elvis Costello), “You Will Be My Ain True Love” (Sting). Cast: Jude Law (W.P. Inman), Nicole Kidman (Ada Monroe), Renée Zellweger (Ruby Thewes), Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman… Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Cillian Murphy.

Trivia: Julia Roberts and Cate Blanchett were allegedly considered for the part of Ada; Tom Hanks and Daniel Day-Lewis for the part of Inman.

Oscar: Best Supporting Actress (Zellweger). BAFTA: Best Supporting Actress (Zellweger), Music. Golden Globe: Best Supporting Actress (Zellweger).

Last word: “I was heartbroken when we had to leave North Carolina because it’s a book whose soul is about a particular place. But the reality is that if I could have gone back to North Carolina I wouldn’t have done. What we found in Romania was something so consonant with the film and so beautiful and untrammelled. You drive past fields full of people scything the harvest. It really was like time travelling.” (Minghella, BBC)



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