Cold Mountain Review

Adapted from the book of the same title by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain is a sweeping epic following separated lovers during the American Civil War. The film is directed by Anthony Minghella, whose previous triumph with the Weinstein brothers brought the world the devastatingly beautiful, albeit harrowing masterwork, The English Patient. While Cold Mountain never achieves the almost seamless grandeur of its predecessor, the film nonetheless stands out as one of the greater accomplishments of the early millennium; with staggering cinematography, breathtaking set-pieces, and stunning performances from an incredible cast.

The year is 1864 and Petersburg is under siege. W.P. Inman (Jude Law) is a Confederate soldier who left behind the love of his life in North Carolina, the preacher’s daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman). After a devastating slaughter in a botched offensive against the entrenched Union troops, Inman lies injured in the makeshift hospital, surrounded by the horrors of prolonged, bloody war. He deserts and so begins a long, perilous journey home to Cold Mountain, with the dogs of war always at his heels and daily horrors abounding. Meanwhile, Ada is befriended by the gregarious Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger, in an Oscar-winning turn) and goes from demure, Southern belle to hard-working farm wife, but not without her share of sinister forces angling to exploit the seemingly unprotected, beautiful woman.

In 2008, the great Anthony Minghella died far too young at the age of 54. He would be nominated posthumously, ironically with Sydney Pollack, also posthumously, for The Reader the next year. This marked his first Best Picture nomination, to join two Best Writing noms and a win for Best Director on The English Patient. There is no denying his incredible contribution to the thinking-(wo)man’s canon of film. His films were complicated, patient, challenging, and, at all times, gorgeous. While he would make Breaking and Entering in 2006, Cold Mountain was the last high-water mark of his career: a bold, sweeping epic that, despite its flaws, harkened back to a more mature and ambitious era of filmmaking.

Cold Mountain excels largely due to an incredible supporting cast. Kidman and Law received undeserved flack when the film came out for how European they made their American characters seem, but both deliver solid performances. It is powerhouse appearances, whether larger or in a mere, single scene, that give the film a developed sensibility and edge. Natalie Portman is harrowing as a widowed mother protecting her infant; Ray Winstone is diabolical as the sadistic captain of the home guard; Charlie Hunnam, long before he was Jax on Sons of Anarchy, commands the camera’s attention in his every shot; Philip Seymour Hoffman is at his distasteful best, and so many other greats like Donald Sutherland and Brendan Gleeson (a true artist, evident thanks to collaborations with the McDonagh brothers on In Bruges and The Guard) round out a stellar ensemble.

Cold Mountain never achieves the profound seamlessness of The English Patient, largely due to its, no pun intended, colder tone. While The English Patient was similarly depressing, it painted an intoxicating story of love on the canvas of Egypt, Libya, and, in later years, Italy. The supporting cast was similarly strong, but the leads took the show. Furthermore, they had the benefit of sharing screentime throughout the film, while Cold Mountain is a story of lovers divided. For this reason, The English Patient was truly about love during wartime, while Cold Mountain was a grisly war film with a love subplot. This put the focus on the uncompromising violence, inhumanity, and desperation of the story, making for a much more unsettling experience in the theater. For many, the bleakness will still be too much.

At two-and-a-half hours, the film is an emotional undertaking that may be too daunting to undertake on an average night, but when that special occasion comes and a beautiful, patient film is called for, Cold Mountain is a place worth returning home to.


Beyond the expected commentary from the great Minghella himself and his editor Walter Murch, the film totes a decent collection of goodies: a making-of documentary, deleted scenes, an in-depth look at the film’s scoring (which includes songs written by Jack White of The White Stripes, Elvis Costello, and String; two songs from the film were Best Original Song nominees), and fascinating storyboard comparisons for the cinefile in all of us.

"Cold Mountain" is on sale January 31, 2012 and is rated R. Drama. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella. Starring Brendan Gleeson, Giovanni Ribisi, Jude Law, Natalie Portman, Nicole Kidman, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ray Winstone, Renee Zellweger.

Kyle North • Staff Writer


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