review by KJ
Doughton, 26 December 2003
Mountain is the story of one manís return to a woman that he
loves but hardly knows. Losing grasp of his humanity through the
gory trenches of the Civil War, this broken soldier is also plagued
with doubt. Will the love of his life accept him, now that brutality
and loss have hardened his soul? Is their love even genuine, or was it merely a shallow, naive
As Inman, Jude Law anchors Anthony
Minghellaís rousing, colossal Cold
Mountain with an intense star presence. Meanwhile, moments of
greatness crackle around the lead actor like artillery spraying from
a Gatling gun. Weíre thrown into the warm winds of exploding
gunpowder stockpiles, shackled to a chain of captured Confederate
deserters, and sheltered on farms tended to by women whose enlisted
husbands and sons have taken on the Yankees.
Mountain opens during a white-knuckle scrimmage between Northern
and Confederate troops at St. Petersburg, Virginia. Itís 1864, in
the heat of July. Defending
a massive, walled fortress with assorted young men decked out in
caps, boots, and suspenders, Inman survives a flaming hell of blood,
mud, tattered flags, and bayoneted bellies.
Minghella shows us the simultaneous division and diversity
that defined the Civil War, in a striking scene where enemy Cherokee
and African American soldiers stand off, each stopping for a minute
to acknowledge the otherís unique ethnicity in this field of white
skin, before resuming their violence unto one another.
Later, we watch a barely teenage
serviceman dying in a fly-infested infirmary, begging a fiddler to "play
something sweet Ė like a girl thatís waiting for me."
Observing such misery, Inman can relate. In the quiet North
Carolina homestead called Cold Mountain, a prewar sweetheart named
Ada (Nicole Kidman) is awaiting his return.
"If you are fighting," she pleads in a letter, "stop
fighting. If you are marching, stop marching. Come back to me is my
Ada isnít kidding around. With
winter setting in and her minister father suddenly passing away,
this privileged Southern Belle could use some help around the family
farm that is quickly slipping out of her soft, inexperienced hands.
Meanwhile, a menacing band of Home Guard outcasts led by
Teague (Ray Winstone) are muscling in to take over Cold Mountain.
Adaís fortunes improve
considerably when a plucky, practical tomboy named Ruby (Renee
Zelwegger) moves in. "Ainít no man better than me," this energetic
firecracker proclaims. After snapping the neck of a bullying rooster
and dumping the foul fowl into a pot, Ruby uses her earthy common
sense to engineer the farm back to a productive state. Meanwhile,
she teaches the more refined Ada how to live off the land. "This is
the first thing Iíve done that might produce an actual result,"
admits Kidmanís pampered priss as the two women mend a fence.
As taxing as Ruby Boot Camp proves
to be, itís nowhere near as gut-wrenching as the odyssey that
Inman endures after deserting his troops to reunite with Ada.
The terror of nursing a sick infant whose father will not
return from battle is conveyed by Natalie Portman, playing a lonely
widow offering room and board to Lawís fatigued wanderer.
Inmanís loyalty to Ada is also tested as he takes sanctuary
in a house of hard-up women. "Ride me all the way to China," urges a
naked temptress as she bends over the cabin dinner table.
As he did with The
English Patient, director Minghella performs a miraculous
juggling act, balancing his epic, sweeping story with the subtleties
of character and detail that make Cold
Mountain breathe. We
feel the unsettled tension seething inside of Inman, as he ponders
whether Ada will even recognize his weathered skin, let alone accept
him as her soul mate. Comedy
relief is embodied by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a disgraced, lusty
clergyman, and a similar lightness shines forth courtesy Brendan
Gleeson as Rubyís cheerful, fiddle-toting father. Even minor
supporting roles such as Charlie Hunnam as a villainous, acrobatic
albino flavor this cinematic potion with added vitality and depth.
Like Martin Scorseseís Gangs
of New York, Cold Mountain
unveils a particularly violent chapter in U.S. history, and
finds a million passionate stories inked out across its muddy,
blood-soaked pages. Unlike, say, Pearl
Harbor, a two-hour commercial posing as a film, Minghellaís
movie brings its huge army of characters to life and prioritizes
their plights over action spectacle. We feel for Inman and Ada, making the explosions and gunfire
that surround these two lovers even more jolting.
Read KJ Doughton's interview.