Its been a while since Hollywood has brought us a Civil War film, but it was worth the wait. Cold Mountain is a well acted, beautifully constructed story, and with the exceptions of a few nitpicky irks, is a really good film.
Based on Charles Frazier's best selling novel by the same name, Cold Mountain is the story of Inman (Jude Law), a Confederate soldier who finds that some times it takes more courage to run than it does to stand and fight. He leaves the ranks to return to is hometown of Cold Mountain with the hope that he will be reunited with his love, Ada, a southern preacher's daughter played by Nicole Kidman. Clutching on to a photo and a letter written by the woman who has managed to capture his heart with only a few passing conversations, Inman drags his wounded body through swamps and fields, befriending a eclectic mix of desperate civilians trying to survive a horrible time.
While Inman presses on toward his hometown, Ada's father (Donald Sutherland) dies leaving her penniless and without hope as she can't take care of her farm (or even herself). While the men of the town are gone, Cold Mountain has fallen under the tyranny of the Home Guard, a group given the power of marshal law in order to protect the families of the men on the battlefield and flush out and kill army deserters. Seeing Ada's vulnerability, the town folk take pity on the girl, and send her Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger), who learned to survive on her own after being abandoned by her alcoholic father. After a rocky start in which Ruby seems harsh and demanding, the two become completely dependent on each other.
When Ruby's father Stobrod (Brendan Gleeson) returns with some friends as a army deserters converted to life loving musicians, the group begins to form a family unit as they meet in secret to avoid the corrupt Home Guard. Inman returns to find the family unit and is reunited with his love only to be gunned down mere days later in a heroic gunfight with the Home Guard.
All in all, this is a good film. The acting is excellent, and it is visually stunning. Phillip Seymour Hoffman deliverers his funniest performance ever. Jude Law really brings the brooding silence of Inman to life. The film is nearly overstocked with stars as director Anthony Minghella oversees an all-star cast.
There. That being said, there are several major problems that seem to keep this film from being great. It appears that there are two styles running side by side in this borderline epic and the director should have made a choice between one or the other.
Firstly, this film had a disturbing realistic quality as the soldier's fear through incredibly intense battle scenes is so visible that the audience can't help but buy into it. The violence is as graphic as it gets, and the civilians are depicted in a dirty desperation as they will do anything to survive. This film really seems to remove the audience from a world of comforts and transport them back in time as you can almost smell the abundant death and filth.
Secondly, there seems to be an epic love story style given to Inman and Ada's relationship. In a Gone With the Wind like dialogue, they communicate through romantic letters and memories, derailing the realistic style of the film. While every other aspect of Cold Mountain dwells in a domain almost difficult to watch, this romantic segment seems so heavily Hollywood it is nearly the opposite extreme.
The two styles seem to clash as we watch bloody battles overlapping the filthy desperation of the civilians and then hop over to a romantic softness. While it does portray Inman and Ada's hope and reason for living in a positive light, perhaps to illustrate such a hope in a world of hate, the styles simply don't mesh.
Character development seems to be a bit lack luster in a couple of instances as well. In what was most likely the courting custom of the time, Inman and Ada speak for about three minutes of screen time. It seems that when Minghella is asking an audience to commit nearly three hours of life to viewing this film watching a hopeless romantic struggle to reunite himself with his love, they should really be given a little more evidence as to the relationship's existence. Historical accuracy need not be thrown out the window, but a few more scenes between the two might have been helpful to run a line through the film as we watch a man nearly killed time and time again to meet back up with a woman he has barely spoken to.
It would have also been nice to have a bit more on Ruby's abandonment. When she feels that she will be cut out of the farm due to Inman's return, she says she had big plans for the farm. We need more here. This woman has been beaten and abandoned, and it seems that there is a big story here, but we really just scratch the surface of it.
The film as a whole is quite entertaining. Many surprise appearances keep Inman's journey fresh as the acting brings to life a people from US past. This is the first film in a while worth the 9 dollars.