Cold Mountain Movie Review

Masterpiece Theater meets Mayberry in Anthony Minghella's Cold Mountain, a stodgy and superfluous adaptation of Charles Frazier's Civil War romance novel that's every bit as unconvincing as it's meant to be epic. Frigid and detached to the point of numbness, the passionless period piece is too staged, too dry, and too silly to matter, though Minghella earns bonus points for staying consistently dishonest and uneven from start to finish.

Minghella tells Mountain in two parts that fail to complement each other. In one, wounded Civil War soldier Inman (Jude Law) reaches his breaking point on Virginia's blood-soaked battlefields and decides he can't spend another day without his true love, Ada (Nicole Kidman). So he puts down his rifle and begins the long walk back to Cold Mountain, N.C. Meanwhile, back home, Ada struggles to maintain her father's house after the man passes away in a disgustingly symbolic rainstorm. She accepts help from the town tomboy (Renée Zellweger) and learns a thing or two about patience, hope, and independence in the face of danger.

Minghella's first mistake is major, and it's one that ultimately dooms his picture's course. For Mountain to rise above, we have to root for Inman and Ada's potential reunion. Law and Kidman, though, are allowed scant few scenes to form their feeble connection as Minghella rushes through their budding romance. He demands we buy into their union instead of convincing us why they'd unite.

What was he hurrying towards? After separating his lovers, Minghella fills the remainder of his picture with insufferable storytelling gimmicks that ring with false importance. He handles his transitions with the grace and subtlety of a runaway freight train, forcing everything down our throats with heavy-handed symbolism and inane backwoods wisdom such as, "Bird got a job, shit got a job, seed got a job."

The cast, as a whole, disappoints. Recognizable stars may populate this Mountain, but few get much to do. Each actor brings his or her own flawed interpretation of a classic Southern accent to the table. The cast of Hee Haw sounded more authentic. Kidman's monosyllabic line-readings turn Ada into a wax caricature of a porcelain Southern belle. Thankfully Zellweger's no-nonsense worker bee buzzes through Kidman's suffocating pretensions like a hot knife through butter.

Inman's faults belong to Minghella's screenplay, not Law's portrayal. Marching to each adventure like a love-starved Tom Sawyer, Inman stumbles on countless souls in need of salvation, from a constipated preacher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to an underprivileged single mother (Natalie Portman). Sensing our need to cheer this man on, Mountain makes Inman the most pious, pure, and politically-correct soldier this side of the Mason-Dixon Line. The gaunt warrior becomes a Christ figure bringing either comfort, death, or a comfortable death to every life he touches. Then again, when the alternative is Hoffman discussing his bowel movements at length, I'll take Law any day.

The fact that Minghella directed the equally extended and emotionally despondent The English Patient should surprise no one. Artistically challenged and abnormally unfocused, Mountain reduces the importance of its central love story and in the process does more damage to the nation's perspective of the South than Deliverance and The Dukes of Hazzard combined. In retrospect, scaling a mountain might be easier than swallowing this pompous bag of feed.

The DVD comprises two discs, including deleted scenes, a feature on the language and music of the film, commentary with Minghella and editor Walter Murch, and the usual collection of making-of goodies. If you're into history of the area (or the movie itself) you won't want to miss this DVD.

Glass of mud, sir?


Comments

Cold Mountain Rating

" Grim "

Rating: R, 2003

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