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Jude Law in Cold Mountain

Nicole Kidman in Cold Mountain
 
 
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Cold Mountain
cast: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Ren´┐Że Zellweger, Donald Sutherland, and Ray Winstone

director: Anthony Minghella

152 minutes (15) 2003
widescreen ratio 2.35:1
Buena Vista DVD Region 2 retail

RATING: 8/10
reviewed by Roger Keen
In The English Patient, Anthony Minghella gave us a bittersweet love story set against the epic, blood-splattered canvas of war, a film of the depth and scope of the work of David Lean, evoking Doctor Zhivago and Lawrence Of Arabia. For his next work, the marvellous The Talented Mr Ripley, he built upon these strengths whilst veering into different material. But with Cold Mountain, adapted from the Charles Frazier novel, Minghella is back with the love story and the war, this time the American Civil War. So we might expect Cold Mountain to follow the path of The English Patient - to be a large and magnificent threnody - and, yes, this is very much the case.
   The lovers are Inman and Ada (Jude Law and Nicole Kidman), who meet in the remote North Carolina town of Cold Mountain when Ada moves there with her father (Donald Sutherland). In the face of Ada's beauty and ladylike ways, country-boy Inman is awkward and taciturn, lacking social skills and covering it up with a remoteness of character. But the two are made for each other and form a bond, which accelerates into love as Inman's war service looms, and they are destined to part. They manage one kiss and a promise to wait before he marches off. This backstory is intercut with vivid scenes from the war, three years on, when the Confederacy is hopelessly struggling for survival, and Inman is battle-hardened and etched with grime. The combat sequences have a gritty feel for the period and the savagery of that particular conflict. The ground - and sometimes it feels the whole frame - literally runs red.
   Inman and Ada communicate by letter, though few of these actually reach their destinations. The articulation of their love becomes the only thing that sustains them, as, in parallel, they become impoverished in their separate ways. Inman's heroics are rewarded with a bullet, and he ends up seriously ill in a stinking hospital. Ada loses her father, her income, and finds she has none of the practical knowledge needed to cope on a farm. But hope comes from an unexpected source. The Swangers, neighbours of Ada, tell her to look into their well by means of a mirror, and she will see the future. Ada experiences an affecting vision that she interprets as Inman walking home to her. And after receiving a letter from Ada, detailing her plight, Inman, now bereft of all idealism, decides to desert and begins a journey on foot back to Cold Mountain and his love.
   Ada's fortunes improve when she teams up with the feisty Ruby (Renée Zellweger), a farm girl looking for a position, who has all the skills Ada lacks. Here Zellweger shows her versatility in a memorable, if slightly caricatured, supporting performance. Meanwhile Inman is undergoing some picaresque adventures as a deserter. He teams up with an itinerant preacher (Philip Seymour Hoffman), nearly gets laid, and has several run-ins with the Yankees and his own in the form of the Home Guard - special militia charged with capturing or simply shooting down deserters, of which there are plenty as the South edges towards defeat.
   In Cold Mountain, Home Guard Captain Teague (Ray Winstone), turns his unwelcome attentions towards Ada in Inman's absence. Early in the film he's a lurking, menacing presence, but when his moment arrives he emerges as a brutal sadist, capable of slaughtering anyone, if he can find a pretext. Winstone plays him with great assurance, and a future career as a Hollywood baddie could beckon as a result of this role. Here the narrative is very strong in the way it conveys the sense of the losing side's anger turning to bitterness and internecine retribution, the distinction between friend and foe blurring away.
   Of course our lovers must meet again, and when they do, well into the second half of the film, it is a moving moment, dealing in emotions as delicate as bone china, in contrast to the murder and mayhem of earlier. Gabriel Yared's moody score helps here, as the damage of separation is repaired and Inman finds his voice at last. The lovemaking scene is tender but explicit, whilst remaining tasteful and artistically valid. Minghella and editor Walter Murch employ a montage technique, scrambling the timeline in a manner reminiscent of the legendary scene in Don't Look Now.
   Despite the big canvas, Cold Mountain is at bottom a love story, and to fully appreciate it one must believe in the lovers and their love, and that is very much an individual matter. Jude Law gives a deliberately withheld performance, as befits the character of Inman, and Nicole Kidman remains almost too glamorous to be Ada, especially in the latter stages when she has to dress down for the harsh winter. But these two are both top-notch players, and together they create an unusual but potent chemistry that sustains the long and winding story. Perhaps Cold Mountain does replicate the format of The English Patient a little too closely, though nonetheless it is surely handled in all departments, producing the look and feel of a splendid old oil painting. The folk music and misty mountain atmosphere lend a gothic twang, and the sprinkling of magic provides a fabulist edge that completes its specialness.
   The two-disc DVD package boasts a host of extras - two documentaries, two music features, an audio commentary from director and editor, plus deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons with the footage. Climbing Cold Mountain covers every aspect of the production, from script adaptation to location scouting in Romania and the creation of the elaborate sets, with the standard cast and crew interviews. The much shorter Journey To Cold Mountain is little more than a cut-down promotional version of the former plus clips from the movie. Better entertainment comes with The Words And Music Of Cold Mountain, a recording of a live country concert featuring Sting, Alison Krauss and Jack White, who plays musician Georgia in the film.
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