Considering the source material (a national book award winner) and the genre (quest for love), Cold Mountain should have been a slam dunk. Instead, the conceit of the filmmakers and lack of chemistry between the main characters has resulted in a laborious film that is more fartsy than artsy.
The basic story is simple. In the small town of Cold Mountain North Carolina, live a hardworking young man named Inman and a pampered young beauty named Ada. After exchanging a few furtive glances and one awkward kiss, Inman gets shipped off to fight for The South in the civil war. Four years later, after being shot in the neck, Inman decides to quit the war and return home to Ada. Though the fighting is nearly over, Inman is technically a deserter and subject to punishment if he is caught by the Home Guard. Inman's journey back to Cold Mountain constitutes the majority of the film and evokes references to biblical parables as well as Homer's "The Odyssey."
I actually liked parts of Minghella's earlier film The English Patient, and you know me, I don't usually go for the melodramatic romances. I also read an amazing interview with Minghella in Interview magazine in which he made some excellent points about how war affects people and the significance and impact of making a film about war. So, I approached Cold Mountain ready to like the film even if it had some spotty dialogue and a score that was heavy on the violins.
...there were scenes in this movie that actually made me want to run screaming from the theater while tearing out my hair. Cold Mountain just tries too hard and demands more respect than it earns. The film sets you up for tragedy after tragedy, and before long you have to stop caring about the characters because you know they're going to meet a miserable end. Minghella politely makes his point that war ruins peoples' lives about thirty minutes in, then beats you over the head with the notion for the next two hours. Furthermore, there is no chemistry between Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, which pretty much drains the gas out of the whole film. If the story is about a guy who would risk life and limb for love, and you don't believe the characters are actually in love and don't believe they could ever be happy together, Inman's entire quest is diminished. He may as well just be saying he is on a journey for love because it sounds good and he knows it will get people to help him out. It's one thing if there is a clear spark in the first act, and the audience is left to question whether that spark remains after four years. It's another thing entirely if the characters are neutral with each other throughout the movie and the woman doesn't seem worth going to all that trouble for anyway.
I am officially tired of Nicole Kidman. She has worn out her welcome in my movie house.
As a woman I find it impossible to identify with her and I am more than tired of the way she whispers her dialogue and is always staring wistfully off in the distance. Even if you like Nicole Kidman, you have to acknowledge that she is way too old to play Ada.
Her age is a major snag in the film. Watching a 36-year-old woman giggle like a shy school girl is beyond weird. It's totally distracting and historically inaccurate. During the time of the civil war, women were (on average) married by 21 and dead by 43. A woman even ten years younger than Kidman could be considered ineligible to be a wife. It gets even more absurd, when the filmmakers expect us to believe that this woman is unable to plant a simple vegetable garden. If 22-year-old Paris Hilton can manage basic farm chores, I think 36-year-old Ada should be able to do the same, especially if the alternative is starving to death. What the filmmakers should have done is cast a younger actress and asked the audience to believe she is older.
As for the other stars of the film, Jude Law does a fine job. His Inman is very much an "anyman," and he plays him as an unassuming salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. I absolutely adored the character of Ruby. Renee Zellweger is a breath of fresh air in the film and I halfway hoped Inman would hook up with her instead. Spritely, grungy and no-nonsense, Zellweger's Ruby provides welcome relief from prissy, unlikable Ada. The supporting cast is brilliant and includes: Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman and Eileen "I saw something nasty in the woodshed" Atkins. Jack White from the White Stripes isn't bad, although he doesn't have many lines.
Visually, the film is great. The battle scenes, though limited, are well produced and interesting. Minghella made a point to shoot both the battle sequence as well as Inman's journey home on landscape which was pitted and banged up as though ravaged by war. In contrast, the landscape surrounding Cold Mountain is graceful and lovely, especially in the snow. I think I might have enjoyed the film a good deal more if the sound had been switched off.
By the end of the film I was ready to sprint from the theater. I was emotionally tired and frustrated with this film that I really tried to like. I couldn't help but identify with how Elaine on Seinfeld felt while watching The English Patient. I don't know how the filmmakers went so very wrong with the delivery of this film on so many levels. Finding Nemo was more meaningful! So was The Straight Story which was made by David Lynch for godsakes! Don't let your curiosity get the best of you. Cold Mountain is a steaming pile of crud.
-Megan A. Denny