U.S. Release Date: December 25, 2003
Distributor: Miramax
Director: Anthony Minghella
Writer: Anthony Minghella (screenplay), Charles Frazier
Producer: Albert Berger, Sydney Pollack, Ron Yerxa
Composer: Gabriel Yared
Cast: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Jena Malone, Lucas Black, Cillian Murphy
Running Time: 2 hours and 35 minutes
MPAA Rating: R (for violence and sexuality)

A Dull Spectacle
by C.A. Wolski

As a romantic spectacle, writer-director Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain fails miserably. This is because the beautifully photographed and staged would-be Civil War epic emphasizes the visual elements over the romantic.

Chartering the Homeric journey of everyman Inman (Jude Law) as he makes his way from the Confederate lines to his beloved Cold Mountain and his soul mate Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), the ex-soldier navigates the horrors of the disintegrating South of 1864. Complicating matters is the fact that Inman has deserted and is in constant danger from the Confederate Home Guard returning him to the dangers of war. In addition, Inman must contend with the elements, hunger and a rogue's gallery of weird characters he meets on the way. While Inman makes his way home, the reverand's daughter Ada learns how to be self-sufficient with the help of Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger).

There is nothing really new about Cold Mountain. We've seen this sort of thing beforeólovers cast asunder, the male partner battling wind, rain, man, and beast to return to her. What is new, however, is how unromantic this movie is. That Ada would pine for Inman for over four years, writing him hundreds and hundreds of letters (many of which we hear in voiceover) is a bit of a stretch, considering the two lovers have barely spoken a word to each other and have only exchanged two or three passionate kisses. There's no sparks between them. Inman is a decent fellow, but laconic and rather dull. There is nothing that should attract an educated, sophisticated woman like Ada to him. It's more understandable why Inman would desert for Ada, but his journey is that of a sleepwalker in a nightmare.

Inman has numerous adventures, many putting him in sexual jeopardy, testing his love for Ada, but they're all rather pointless and violent. Indeed, for a romance, Cold Mountain is a bit heavy on the violence. Ttrue, it is the Civil War, but Sergio Leone movies are cheerier.

And this brings up the fundamental problem with Cold Mountain, it's really not about anything. Contrary to the advertising campaign, the movie is, if anything, about redemption, but even that's a bit of a stretch. Minghella does a good job showing us that war is indeed hell, and that simple moments of work, friendship and love are indeed what makes life worth living, but that's about as profound as Cold Mountain gets. And the feel-good ending is straight out of a Hallmark greeting card.

Overall the acting is fine. Law delivers a good performance as Inman, and Nicole Kidman, as usual, is excellent as Ada. The real standout performance is Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) as Cold Mountain Home Guard commander Teague. He is evil, but there is a shred of humanity within him that seeps through. It's a nicely nuanced performance that will probably be overlooked. Natalie Portman has a nice, small role as a war widow, and Philip Seymour Hoffman is suitably greasy as the defrocked Reverend Veasey. The biggest disaster of the movie, however, is Zellweger, who inexplicably plays Ruby as a comic character straight out of The Beverly Hillbillies. She's downright terrible, and Minghella has her ruin a beautiful romantic scene (one of the few in the movie) between Law and Kidman late in the movie.

One of the best things about Cold Mountain is the score by Gabriel Yared, who also composed the music of Minghella's The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley. It's almost too good for the material.

In the end, Cold Mountain fails because it is lacking the two elements that it desperately neededóromantic heat and a theme worth caring about.

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