Cold Mountain

It might not have been love at first sight, but the moment handyman Inman set eyes on the new preacher’s beautiful daughter Ada, he knew that their lives would become intertwined. Ada felt the same way, but being a proper woman raised in Charleston, knew that she had to play coy. So days before the able-bodied men of “Cold Mountain” enter the Civil War in 1861, Ada finds herself serving Inman one drink after another in an effort to get to know him better.

Ada’s efforts are not lost on Inman, whose blossoming feelings for Ada set the stage for his three year journey to return to the woman he loves, and her struggle to survive the elements and cowardly marauders. Even though they only shared one long, passionate kiss, the bond between Ada and Inman is strong enough to give each other hope in a time when hope was in short supply.

“Cold Mountain” vividly captures the personal and physical demands placed on the participants of the Civil War, frequently straying from the battlefield to explore how the war affects those left behind. Those images, heroic, horrific, and hopeful, are all perfectly captured by writer-director Anthony Minghella, whose “The English Patient” explored similar themes. “Cold Mountain” is “Gone with the Wind” by way of “Homer’s Odyssey.”

.Minghella masterfully mixes intimate, character-driven story lines and epic backdrops, creating a film that never becomes larger than life. Like in Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel, Minghella’s script is grounded by its singular approach to the humanity and inhumanity of its characters. Even the midst of chaos, we feel we know all of the players, allowing us to make valid judgments on their actions and fates.

As the determined Inman, Jude Law makes it easy for us to believe that his character would go AWOL and risk inhuman conditions to return to the woman he loves. As viewers, we don’t blame him. After performing heroically in battle, Inman is left for dead more than once. The only thing keeping him alive is a tintype of Ada, a heavily feathered book, and the occasional letter.

Back on “Cold Mountain,” Ada is facing battles of her own. After her father (Donald Sutherland) dies, Ada quickly learns she knows absolutely nothing about surviving on her own. She gets help and assistance from neighbors Esco (James Gammon) and Sally (Kathy Baker), but for the most part Ada sits and pines over Inman, writing him letter after letter. Serving as Ada’s narrative, the letters are proof just how much one kiss can mean to someone who had little to begin with.

Nicole Kidman, quickly becoming the premiere actress of our time, is outstanding as Ada, a pretty shell of a woman who swiftly learns the harsh realities of life. Kidman convincingly guides us through Ada’s highs and lows, touching our heart with her burning desire to be reunited with Inman. We never doubt for one moment Inman’s objective. Kidman’s Ada is worth going through hell and back.

“Cold Mountain” really comes alive with the introduction of Renee Zellweger’s Ruby, a local gal who offers Ada help in exchange for food and lodging. Ruby is the Civil War equivalent of Annie Oakley, a no fuss, rifle toting powder keg of a woman. Every time Ruby enters the frame, the film elevates itself to another level. Some might find Ruby brazen, but she’s the kind of character who eventually endears herself to the audience. The relationship and hardships that Ada and Ruby share is a refreshing perspective that has been absent from most modern war films.

Above everything else, “Cold Mountain,” is a romantic drama, and not a hormone heavy chick flick. It’s a story that anyone with a heart can appreciate. Minghella’s script uses romance as an undercurrent, a testament to endurance. Inman meets several characters on his trip home, some women, some available, yet he keeps his heart true. Even though he may not make it home, Inman believes he will, and that belief is much more romantic than a quick release.

My only complaint was that “Cold Mountain” seemed unnecessarily long. I’m sure the story could have been told in less time, but it’s as if Minghella believes a film improves with length. How can it be “epic” entertainment if it’s two hours long? That aside, and a minor consideration at that, “Cold Mountain” really engaged me with its visual impact and colorful supporting characters.

Kathy Baker is well cast as Ada’s understanding neighbor, Philip Seymour Hoffman sparkles as a disgraced preacher who ends up on the run with Inman, Natalie Portman has a brief but heartbreaking turn as a war widow in desperate need of a warm man in her bed, and Eileen Atkins is memorable as an elderly mountain woman with a few tricks up her sleeve.

Ray Winstone (Sexy Beast) provides nice heft as the villain of the piece, a former land owner with a huge chip on his shoulder, and Brendan Gleeson (with excellent assist from Ethan Suplee and Jack White) provides some levity as Ruby’s unexpected kin. That each and every character rise above the majesty of the story is a tribute to Minghella, a director who doesn’t just see the whole picture, he sees every detail in it.

Uncivil War

Strong performances heat up Cold Mountain


Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zellweger, Brendan Gleeson, Kathy Baker, Eileen Atkins, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland. Directed by Anthony Minghella. Rated R. 155 Minutes.


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