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Cold Mountain
Dome Cinema 
By Dena May Fisher
It’s the last year of the American Civil War. A confederate soldier escapes from a front line military hospital and sets off on the long walk home to Cold Mountain. Avoiding death and capture, he crosses the country and is reunited with the woman he loves. It’s as simple as that! Well…not quite. A star-studded cast, a Romanian mountain range, a story of deadly war and desperate love all blend together in an award-winning film, which proves to be as emotionally flat as it is visually breathtaking. It is love, Jim, but not as we know it…

The story evolves along two separate lines: We follow Inman (Jude Law) who after being injured in battle, deserts from the Front and struggles to make his way home. And back on the mountain we observe Ada (Nicole Kidman), the southern belle he loved but had to leave behind. Inman’s trip is both helped and hindered by the various people he meets along the way, providing us with some of the most meaningful parts of the film. Ada’s fate seems uncertain after the sudden death of her father, as she is left alone, totally unprepared for the harsh realities of rural life, proud, stubborn and useless. Farm girl Ruby (Renee Zellweger) arrives and soon has both Ada and the house in a fit state to survive the war. Their friendship becomes the only really developed relationship of the film.

Just as in ‘The English Patient’, writer/director Anthony Minghella weaves the two strands of the story using a mixture of chronological scenes and flashbacks, with a voice-over narrative taken from Ada’s letters to Inman. Although seemingly precarious at the beginning, the technique works well, serving to highlight the contrasts of the two separate fights for survival.

Another Minghella trademark to be seen in this film is his love for vast and grandiose landscapes. Set in North Carolina but shot in Romania, the film is endowed with long, wide indulgently sweeping shots of snow-capped mountains and unspoiled forests which stretch as far as the eye can see. Even the gruesome battle scenes are full of depth and scale, illustrating the awe-inspiring levels of human loss on the wide open blood-soaked battle fields.

The beauty of the scenery can be rivaled only by that of the leading lady. No matter how torn are her clothes, or how unkempt her hair, Nicole Kidman manages to grace every scene with her un-spoilable fairy-tale looks. Paired with Zellweger’s understated beauty and charm, the two leading ladies are worth watching if only for the sake of aesthetics!

For indeed unlike these women’s beauty, their acting certainly leaves something to be desired. Ada’s role requires pouting and crying which Kidman manages quite well but fails to add to, whereas Ruby’s unrefined earthiness and no-nonsense attitude seems (despite the Academy award) to be somewhat thickly laid on by Zellwegger. Jude Law’s good looks are well-hidden under a beard and some dirt, and he appears convincingly haggard by the time he reaches home. But while his acting fares better than that of the women, it is the secondary roles which really steal the show. Ray Winstone excels in his role as the evil Mr Teague; Philip Seymour Hoffman is as splendid as ever, in the part of a desperate and promiscuous priest; Finally, Nathalie Portman and Kathy Baker provide powerful performances as female characters we can actually believe in.

Despite its many encouraging factors, Cold Mountain has one major flaw: The completely unbelievable plot. Inman and Ada’s sole motivation for survival is the supposed intensity of their love for one another, despite the fact that their relationship only ever amounted to a mere few words and a hurried kiss. Who are they trying to kid? We understand that war-time romance is accelerated by the urgency of life in the face of death, but please!! 3 years?? The sickeningly gooey language used by the lovers is even mocked by another of the characters, but that does not make it any easier to bear. The success of the trip is improbable enough, but the motivation behind it is sheer nonsense.

From the start, we are drawn by the quality of the film-making and at the same time repelled by the lack of plausible action and sentiment. Regrettably, what we gain in historical understanding and social comment, we lose in the absence of basic heartfelt emotion. A great director, good acting, fantastic scenery…and a lousy plot! It’s always a shame to see a good film ruined. I don’t care how many Oscar nominations it received, Cold Mountain doesn’t reach anywhere near the heights of its potential.

13.05.04
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