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Review written by: Alex Sandell
I entered the screening of Cold Mountain with a nearly incapacitating feeling of trepidation. My heart was palpitating; my body was fighting against cinematic memories that I desperately wished to forget. The film I was about to see was written and directed by Anthony Minghella. Yes, the same Anthony Minghella that wrote and directed The English Patient. Longtime readers of this page know that The English Patient has been my cross to bear as a critic since I watched it in 1996 and reviewed it in 1997. It inspired me to write my first annual Academy Award update, and gave me plenty to bitch about when it swept the ceremony.
Cold Mountain, yet another film involving war, romance and critic's blurbs containing frightening words such as "sweeping" and "epic" couldn't be any better could it? There was only one way to find out, and it's my job to suffer through insufferable films, so other people won't have to. But, I noticed something strange happening as I watched Cold Mountain. Something nearly miraculous ― I found myself enjoying the film. Halleluiah, there is a God in Heaven! Cold Mountain is a good film. The movie is captivating from beginning to end, and there is nary a boring scene to be found.
Although it's been marketed as a romance (for the women) or a war movie (for the men), Cold Mountain is actually the story of life, faith, fulfillment and loss. The film starts during the onset of the Civil War. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) is a privileged woman who comes to Cold Mountain with her sickly father. She meets up with Inman (Jude Law) and the two are immediately taken with one another. Their romance is never allowed to blossom, due to the fact that Inman is too shy to let anything really begin, and is sent off to the war before Ada has a chance to invent Paxil. The two kiss once before separating and it is that kiss that holds them together for the next three years.
Ada continues to write to Inman during the war. Inman takes comfort in reading her letters and looking at the picture she gave to him before he left. Their love is based more on the need to believe in something than it is on the brief events that took place between them. When Ada asks Inman to return to her at Cold Mountain, he leaves the war behind and embarks on a quest that would do Frodo proud. He's determined to return to Ada, and Ada is determined to stay in Cold Mountain and wait for his return.
Although Ada never strays far from her home, she goes on an adventure of her own. When Ruby (Renée Zellweger) is sent to assist Ada at her farm, she teaches the woman how to live practically. The two develop a deep friendship, and prevent one another from falling apart.
The relationship between the two women is magical, and easily the most interesting aspect of the movie. Both Kidman and Zellweger put in excellent performances. The only thing that rings hollow about the two women is the deliberately frazzled hair on their heads and the contrasting professionally applied makeup on their faces. It's hard to believe that these are two down on their luck women of the 1800s, when their faces look as though they've been touched up for their walk down the red carpet at the Academy Awards.
Jude Law fairs better as a scruffy looking confederate soldier, and later deserter. His pretty-boy looks are quickly covered up with a Jim Morrison beard and a face full of scratches and dirt. His character meets up with an eclectic assortment of strangers, during his journey home. Every story is compelling, and all of the characters are interesting, but the casting becomes annoying.
Almost everyone in the film is played by a recognizable face. From Natalie Portman to Philip Seymour Hoffman to Giovanni Ribisi - this film's quirky characters oftentimes border on becoming distracting cameos. Soon, you find yourself wondering what famous actor will be around the next bend, will open the next door, or will be nearly unrecognizable behind the next ton of facial hair. All of the actors do a fine job; I just think the film would be more powerful if the audience didn't know all of the actors.
Anthony Minghella has already proven himself as a director, but it wasn't until Cold Mountain that he proved himself to be a worthy screenwriter. The dialogue in the film is memorable, the anti-war message is both subtle and powerful, and the characters are made believable and sympathetic enough to cause you to feel something for all of them (outside of this one cardboard "bad guy" with bleached hair and a stupid hat). The movie does suffer from some predictability, but that may be due to the fact that Jude Law gave the whole damn thing away on an episode of Inside the Actor's Studio, before the movie was released.
I have yet to read the novel Cold Mountain was based on, but the film itself plays like a book. Even though the film is already 2 hours and 30 minutes, I would have gladly sat through an hour more. I got the feeling that some heavy editing went on, before its theatrical release. A "Special Extended DVD Edition" may be in order.
I'm not going to call Cold Mountain "epic" or "sweeping." I'm not going to label it a "masterpiece." I won't claim that it's the best film of the year. I'll just give it a solid recommendation and say that it's stuck with me now for a long while, and is a movie that I won't soon forget.
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Coming soon -- The Butterfly Effect, Big Fish (yes, I know it's late), and other stuff!
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Text ©(Copyright) 2003 Alex Sandell [All Rights Reserved].