Is it better to have had something wonderful for a short time and
then lose it, than to never have had it at all? That's the question
at the heart of Cold Mountain, which is, among other things,
an extended meditation on the way the human heart and spirit keep
going in adversity.
Told in alternating scenes of "present time" and flashbacks
which gradually move together in time, Cold Mountain thrusts
us immediately into the horror of the U.S. Civil War, as the
Confederate stronghold of Petersburg is attacked by Yankee forces. In
the ensuing firefight and gruesome hand-to-hand combat, the film
sticks with one of the Confederate soldiers, a North Carolina man
whose name we later learn is Inman (Jude Law). The one thing that
keeps him going is the thought of returning home to Cold Mountain and
his beloved Ada (Nicole Kidman), whose battered photograph serves
almost as a talisman to him. Meanwhile, Ada faces the lonely reality
of waiting for a man who may never return to her, without the means
to even know if he is still alive.
Cold Mountain is one of those uncommon films that actually
merits its lengthy running time (two hours and thirty-four minutes).
From the very first scene to the last, the story is always moving
along, always developing in an interesting way, with new elements
being woven in at various points along the way. The cast of
characters is extremely well handled: apart from Inman and Ada, there
are a considerable number of well-drawn and memorable secondary
characters. Cold Mountain's origins in a novel (by Charles
Frazier) are evident in the story's depth and richness; we get the
sense that these are characters with lives beyond what we see here,
and that their stories are just some of many in a richly textured
world. The only note that doesn't ring quite true in the film is a
minor one: the uneven accents. Jude Law manages to not sound British,
but he certainly doesn't sound like a North Carolinian; Nicole Kidman
does a bit better, though her accent doesn't hold a candle to the
fully authentic one of Renée
Cold Mountain pulls no punches when it comes to depicting the
struggle for survival in the war-torn South. The ravages of war
extended far beyond the battlefields, as law and order broke down in
towns virtually emptied by the enlistment of all but the oldest and
youngest men. With a shattered economy and the constant threat of
either harassment by "Home Guard"
or invasion by the Yankees, the daily life of the women trying to
keep things going at home ranged from difficult to brutal. Cold
Mountain's dual threads of narrative, with one thread following
Inman and the other following Ada, depict these hardships through two
different perspectives. In Ada's half of the tale, we see how the
townspeople we've come to know in the flashbacks try to help each
other to survive. Ada, raised as a "young lady" and versed
in accomplishments such as reading Latin and playing the piano, finds
an unlikely ally and friend in rough-spoken but practical Ruby Thewes
(Renée Zellweger, who won
an Academy Award as Best Supporting Actress for her performance
here). Meanwhile, Inman's story is more picaresque, as his travels
take him across the path of various other characters, all of whom are
trying to survive in one way or another.
As a historical film, then, Cold Mountain does a remarkable
job of evoking the chaos and social breakdown of the South in the
Civil War, but that's really just the wrapping around the central
story of the film, which is the relationship between Inman and Ada.
We learn early on that the two barely know each other, and have
exchanged only a handful of words before Inman left to join the
fighting; what the film asks us to ponder is "How much is
enough?" As time goes by, each character becomes more and more
of an abstract idea to the other: the idea that there will be a life
after the war, the idea that there's something worth waiting and
struggling for. If the thought of love keeps each of them going, does
it matter whether it's real? Will that thought be enough to sustain
both of them, and will it last the contact with reality?
In this way, Cold Mountain's love story works far better than
the more typical one of "true love separated by adversity"
because we can see that their relationship is founded on their need
for something to believe in. What we're interested in seeing, as the
film develops, is how that imagined relationship stands up... both to
adversity, and to the possibility of actually becoming reality. Cold
Mountain asks us whether it's worthwhile to have something
beautiful for only a moment – namely, the brief time that Inman
and Ada know each other – even if you can never have it again.
And while I won't reveal the ending to the film, I'll simply comment
that the conclusion is very well handled, and leaves some of those
questions for the viewer to continue thinking about.
Cold Mountain is a two-DVD set, nicely packaged in a slim
single-wide keepcase. The film appears on the first disc, and the
bulk of the bonus materials are on the second disc.
Visually, Cold Mountain is stunning on DVD, with one of the
nicest transfers I've had the pleasure to see in quite a while. The
film is presented in its original 2.35:1 widescreen aspect ratio, and
is anamorphically enhanced. The level of detail is impressive, and
overall the image looks sharp and finely textured, with edge
enhancement invisible to all but the most searching eye. Colors are
presented very well, with a level of subtlety that allows for slight
shifts in tone to capture the mood of particular scenes, from the
golden, sunshine-filled flashback scenes on Cold Mountain to
the bleak grays and blues of winter in the mountains. The print is in
pristine condition, with no flaws or noise appearing anywhere in the
The DTS 5.1 soundtrack is a delight to the ear, though the Dolby 5.1
option is no slouch either. The sound is rich and full, with all the
elements of the track (music, dialogue, sound effects) nicely
balanced. Surround sound is put to extremely good use here, with a
continual sense of immersion in the world of the film; the battle
sequences are particularly impressive as well. Could this track sound
any better? I don't think so.
Miramax didn't stint with the special features for this Collector's
Edition; the bonus content here certainly merits the two-disc
treatment. On Disc 1, fans of the film will be pleased to find a
full-length audio commentary track from director Anthony Minghella
and film editor Walter Murch.
Disc 2 contains the rest of the bonus materials, and they're quite
substantial. Taking center stage is a 73-minute documentary on the
making of the film, called "Climbing Cold Mountain." It's a
substantial and interesting piece, touching on all aspects of the
making of the film, from creating the screenplay and doing location
scouting, to production design, to shooting and publicity. Various
members of the crew as well as the cast are interviewed at various
points throughout the documentary, making for a very informative
piece overall. Another "making-of" documentary is also
included, called "A Journey to Cold Mountain"), but this
29-minute piece is simply a promotional-style piece, and not even
remotely as interesting as "Climbing Cold Mountain."
Eleven deleted scenes are included, running about twenty minutes in
all; they're in fairly rough format, indicating they were most likely
cut early in the process. A play all feature is conveniently included
here. Film buffs will likely also be interested in the storyboard
comparisons for three scenes, which total
about eleven minutes. "Sacred Harp History" is a
four-minute piece giving some background information on the 19th
century songbook that served as a source for the music of Cold
One last special feature is somewhat unusual. "The Words and
Music of Cold Mountain" is the recording of a kind of
celebration of Cold Mountain, performed live at Royce Hall.
The performance runs a bit over 90 minutes, and includes a lengthy
and interesting interview with director Anthony Minghella. Following
this are readings from the original novel and live performances of
some of the songs in the film.
Cold Mountain: Collector's Edition, Miramax has graced a
lovely, thoughtful, and rich film with an outstanding transfer and a
hefty load of special features. In a film that makes such extensive
use of landscape and visual imagery as Cold Mountain, it's
especially nice to see a spotless transfer like this; while it's not
often that I give five stars to anything, I really can't see how Cold
Mountain could look or sound much better than it does. As one of
the best films and certainly one of the best DVDs I've had pass
through my hands this year, Cold Mountain earns a DVDTalk
Collector's Series rating.