Sepia toned images of Civil War documentaries pale in comparison to those in "Cold Mountain," such as the one above.

Civil War saga
misfires with

"Cold Mountain"
Rated R
Opens Christmas Day

The much-anticipated and star-studded "Cold Mountain," set during four years of the Civil War, is a lengthy paean to unrequited love, testimony to people's ability to survive against all odds, and the awful consequences of war.

That's a lot to ask of any film and part of the problem with this lengthy film written and directed by Academy Award-winner Anthony Minghella, based on Charles Frazier's best-selling Civil War novel.

While the movie features top-notch performances, beautiful production values, realistic battles and honest interpersonal conflicts, it ends up trapped by its own ambitions.

The problems facing this movie adaptation are immense, making for a bleak but never ponderous experience that keeps the viewers' interests because of the excellent cast, and art and costume production.

What "Cold Mountain" does convey clearly is the insanity of war, because no one ever really wins. It clearly shows the conflict of a devastated, confused nation divided between Civil War-ravaged Southerners who accept defeat and others who refuse to let go of what little of their pride is left.

What the film's missing, and what should be the essential draw, is a believable, romantic pull, a more engaging personal edge, rather than scenes that feel contrived and more melodramatic than heartfelt.

"Cold Mountain" is the story of W.P. Inman (Jude Law), a wounded Confederate deserter who is on a dangerous trek home to his North Carolina mountain community, hoping to reunite with his prewar sweetheart, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman). Since he's been gone for about four years, Ada has struggled to survive on her late father's farm; she eventually is aided by an intrepid young drifter named Ruby (Renee Zellweger).

Law is the glue holding the film together. His understated acting conveys his desperation and determination to fulfill what may turn out to be just a unrealistic romantic fantasy.

The epic stars Jude Law, left, and Nicole Kidman.

The idea of this long-distance romance between Inman and Monroe, created by the briefest of courtships that ends with a scene filled with passionate kissing and clutching, does seem fantasylike. After all, this is during an era when manners and customs must be observed over baser emotions, and courtships dignified and proper. But, if you're one of those that believe in love at first sight, you'll buy the premise of their relationship.

But we never really get to know the couple: What are their back-stories? Why do they love and need each other so badly and so quickly? There's not enough electricity to sustain the ordeal they both endure. If we knew more about the two, we would understand how the fantasy of their relationship was enough to get them through the night.

"Cold Mountain" spends the bulk of its time going back and forth between Inman's travails and Monroe's struggles keeping up the farm. During Inman's trek home, between episodes of trying to avoid the "The Home Patrol," a local militia prowling for Yankee sympathizers and rebel deserters, he meets scores of people: A philandering minister (Philip Seymour Hoffman, first seen with Law in Minghella's "The Talented Mr. Ripley"), who is about to drown a black slave whom he has gotten pregnant; a young war widow (Natalie Portman) who falls for the wandering deserter (generating the most electricity between characters in the film); a hillbilly family led by a redneck (Giovanni Ribisi) with a house of sex-starved women; and a leathery old woman who kills her pet goat for them to eat. Inman also lands on a chain gang for being a deserter.

Renee Zellweger plays Ruby Thewes, a jack of all trades handywoman who befriends Nicole Kidman's character, Ada.

These scenes are wonderful and real and make up for the sparse scenes between Kidman and Law.

Zellweger, despite her coarseness, is sweet, though a bit over the top, with her odd facial contortions and stampeding around the farm, but her role provides much-needed comic relief.

Law takes what is essentially a passive role and infuses it with real suspense and angst. Kidman goes through a believable transformation that mirrors Law's during his journey. There is also the obligatory but believable and erotically tasteful sex scene between the two lovers.

There's lots to like about "Cold Mountain": Its scenery (Romania fills in for North Carolina), a soul-touching score by Gabriel Yared, the bluegrass-inspired soundtrack produced by T-Bone Burnett and a good minor role from White Stripes front man Jack White.

But the movie leavens on the strong messages about the horrors of war -- the separation of loved ones and the cold, unbiased hand of death, which leaves no one untouched.

"Cold Mountain" is a dark tale with only a few glimmers of light and hope. It's a good film but not a great one.

Do It Electric
Click for online
calendars and events.


E-mail to Features Editor


Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Calendars]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]
© 2003 Honolulu Star-Bulletin --