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Cold Mountain (2003)

Find the strength. Find the courage. No matter what it takes... find the way home.

Rating: 7/10

Running Time: 152 minutes

UK Certificate: 15

Following the success of ‘The English Patient’ and ‘The Talented Mr Ripley’, Anthony Minghella’s latest literary adaptation is ‘Cold Mountain’, based on the National Book Award-winning novel by Charles Frazier. It is an expansive, lyrical (anti-)war epic with clear designs on the Oscars, although it seems more likely to receive recognition from the Academy for some of its finer parts than for its slightly lumbering, over-bookish whole.

Near the end of the American Civil War, while recovering from serious wounds in a military hospital, the Confederate soldier Inman (Jude Law) receives a letter from his beloved Ada (Nicole Kidman) calling upon him to come back to her, and so sets out on the long walk back to Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Ada struggles to survive alone on her father’s farm, until the earthy Ruby (Renée Zellweger) offers help. While Ada is learning about self-reliance and independence from men, and resisting the land-grabbing advances of brutish Home Guard captain Teague (Ray Winstone), Inman wanders through a war-ravaged hell to a cold place where not only Ada, but also Teague and his men are waiting.

With its epic journey home from war through a landscape of murderous men and seductive women, ‘Cold Mountain’ is Homer’s ‘Odyssey’ transplanted to the American South – in other words, something like ‘O Brother, Where Art Thou?’ (but without the laughs), right down to its theme of the redemptive power of proto-bluegrass folk music. It is ironic, at a time when real war, in both Afganistan and Iraq, is carefully sanitised for public consumption on our television screens, that the full horror of war should be explored more honestly and more graphically in a piece of cinematic historical fiction. The 1864 Siege of Petersburg which opens ‘Cold Mountain’ is an unflinching portrayal of the burning devastation of explosions and the blood and filth of close combat, and the rest of the film is a series of vignettes examining the devastating effects of war on the lives of individuals. As such it is a deeply political film, with a decidedly feminist stance on war’s folly.

At the same time, the film is highly poetic. Inman’s taciturnity, the dreaminess of the cinematography, and the surrealism of his encounters on the road all combine to leave it uncertain whether Inman is really travelling home, or is on a more allegorical journey to his final resting place. Jude Law plays Inman as a lost soul, full of quiet intensity and awkward longing.

Nicole Kidman, on the other hand, who has occasionally been allowed to shine in films like ‘To Die For’, The Others and The Hours, is here little more than a pretty face in period costume, and is acted right off the screen by Renée Zellweger who puts in a wonderfully uncharacteristic performance as the pig-rearing Ruby that is just this side of hammy. The film’s biggest problem, however, is its picaresque structure, which leaves the suspicion that the loss of an episode here or there would have made very little difference to the plot (while dramatically reducing the film’s length). Still, at a time when audiences are all too happy to indulge the monstrous bulk of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, the two and a half hours of ‘Cold Mountain’ may seem positively brief.

It's Got: A superb supporting cast, especially Philip Seymour Hoffman as a fallen priest interested only in sex and his own bowel movements (Hallelujah!), and Jack White (of The White Stripes) as a singer named after a state - and a sex scene cut out of order, reminiscent of Dont Look Now and its tragic trajectory (Donald Sutherland is in both films).

It Needs: To lose one or two scenes (preferably those involving Ada waitng and suffering) from its meandering plot - by the time its all over, you will feel that the young men on screen were not the only ones whose lives have been cut short.


A classically crafted Civil War epic with actions and ideas aplenty – but not enough to fill its excessive length.