Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Cold Mountain

Originally Written and Posted at on 12/31/03 w/ Additional Edits & Revisions

With Oscar-award season looming, every film in the fall comes out trying to compete for that coveted Oscar prize. While some films weren’t intentionally made for the Oscars but get noticed, there are some films that were tailor-made for those awards. Recently, some films got smarter by not just trying so hard to make a great film but also just doing it right. Recently, Miramax chief Harvey Weinstein wanted to get a film from his film company to win that coveted prize for once and he chose a project that was going either going to help or sink Miramax. Based on the novel by Charles Frazier, filmmaker Anthony Minghella was chosen to make a big screen adaptation of the American Civil War love story entitled Cold Mountain.

Budgeted at over $80 million, Cold Mountain is by far the most ambitious film that Miramax has ever made. Directed and adapted into a script by Minghella, Cold Mountain is an epic film in some cases but also has elements of drama and comedy set in the 1860s during the American Civil War. It’s about a Confederate soldier trying to return home to North Carolina to reunite with his love as he meets strangers while she is trying to survive her loneliness with help from a wild woman. Starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger plus appearances by Natalie Portman, Donald Sutherland, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Ray Winstone, Kathy Baker, Giovanni Ribisi, Brendan Gleeson, and James Gammon.  Cold Mountain is a film that has all of the ambitions for an epic film but lacks a very strong story.

The film’s first act begins back and forth to 1861 in the town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina, and 1864 at the Siege of St. Petersburg in Virginia. A Confederate soldier named Inman (Jude Law) is anticipating the attacks from the Northern troops while talking with friend Oakley (Lucas Black). Unfortunately, the Yankees pulled a surprise attack on them as Inman is nearly killed while he loses Oakley during the battle. While recovering, he thinks of his love Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and how he met her in 1861. Ada was the daughter of Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) as they meet for a brief time as they fall in love immediately. Then he’s called out to serve the Confederate army as he is forced to leave Ada but she gives him a picture and he does the same so they can remember each other.

Back in St. Petersburg, Inman tries to pull a surprise attack on the Yankees but gets shot in the neck and barely survives the attack. In the hospital, a woman reads him a letter as he ponders on what he should do. He decides to leave the hospital and return home to Cold Mountain. On the day he leaves, Ada learns that anyone who deserts the Confederate army will be tried for treason. Pursuing the deserters is the town’s law enforcement chief Teague (Ray Winstone) as he and his goons, including an albino-looking man named Bosie (Charlie Hunman), look for them. Since Inman’s departure, Rev. Moore had passed away with Ada leaving the house all to herself with no one to help her clean as she gets a bit of help from neighbors Sally Swanger (Kathy Baker) and her husband Esco (James Gammon).

Ada finally gets help from a fast-talking wild woman named Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger) who teaches her how to grow crops and rebuild her garden and all sorts of work as the two begin to bond. Inman meanwhile learns he’s in pursuit as he meets up with a former priest named Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman) as they both try to escape from drifters by getting help from a ferry girl (Jena Malone) and hide in a shack by a crazy local named Junior (Giovanni Ribisi). Junior and his hordes of women (including Melora Walters and Taryn Manning) try to seduce Veasey and Inman but Junior rats on them as they’re captured. While they’re being pulled by Confederate forces, they get attacked by more Union troops as Inman again, survives another attack.

Back in Cold Mountain, the pursuit of deserters get intense as Sally is beaten and tortured while Esco and her sons are killed by Teague and his goons. Sally loses her voice as she is being cared by Ada and Ruby. Ruby knows that Teague will do something very drastic. Inman then finds himself in the care of an old woman named Maddy (Eileen Atkins) as she gives him a gun and heals his wounds as he continues his journey. He finds shelter at the home of a young single mother named Sara (Natalie Portman) who is mourning the death of her husband while trying to raise her baby. Inman comforts her in her loss as he later saves her from an attempted rape by some Union soldiers.  Back in Cold Mountain, Ruby’s father Stobrod (Brendan Gleeson) visits to her dismay as he and his musician friends Pangle (Ethan Suplee) and Georgia (the White Stripes’ Jack White) entertain her, Ada, and Sally.  Teague later captures Stobrod with Georgia escaping Teague's clutches as he turns to Ruby and Ada.  With Inman finally returning, the three finally make a stand towards Teague and his goons.

For a film like Cold Mountain, it's a romantic-epic that has everything needed for a period piece set in the American Civil War.  The problem is that the story isn't that interested in some parts.  Inman's journey from his escape to his arrival is the most interesting piece of the film as he would meet various people during this journey.  Then there's the story of Ada and her plight which isn't interesting at all where the film pretty much becomes uneven.  When Ruby shows up, it doesn't raise that section of the film to newer heights where anything about them doesn't give the viewers anything interesting to see.  Instead, they're forced to see Ada long for Inman and Ruby talk with all of that sass and such.

Anthony Minghella's direction has a lot of great visuals and scenery as it's all wonderfully shot by John Seale.  Though it's shot on location in Romania as the South, it does have a dirty, gritty look that it needed for some scenes.  Yet, there are places where the film lags a bit whenever Minghella chooses to go into Ada's own story.  Many of the scenes with Inman have a nice rhythm thanks to Walter Murch's superb editing though it's more leisured with Ada's story.  While Minghella does get things moving with the third act, he ends things in a somewhat cheesy way.

The film’s score and music provided by the White Stripes’ Jack White, T-Bone Burnett, and Gabriel Yared are well used for its down-home, 1860s feel as the music is all stripped down while Yared’s orchestral score is heightened in the more melodramatic moments of the film.

On the film’s performances, the casting is indeed a remarkable achievement from its leads to the smaller supporting roles. Although the roles of Donald Sutherland, Cillian Murphy, Taryn Manning, Giovanni Ribisi, Melora Walters, Lucas Black, Eileen Atkins, Ethan Suplee, and Jena Malone, were small. They were memorable for their brief moments.  Notably Donald Sutherland as Ada's father, Jena Malone as a ferry girl, and Cillian Murphy as a sympathetic Union soldier.  Philip Seymour Hoffman is superb in a supporting role as a slimy priest who joins Inman in a journey as he brings some humor to the role. In the Cold Mountain scenes, James Gammon is excellent as Esco while Jack White shows some charm as Georgia.  Brendan Gleeson is both funny and heartwarming as Ruby’s father Stobrod.

Ray Winstone is great as Teague, the man trying to pursue Nicole Kidman for all the wrong reasons. Winstone is just devilishly cool in his role, especially with Charlie Hunman as his albino henchmen that is just fun to watch. Kathy Baker definitely puts in a standout performance as the lovely Sally Swanger as she goes from a nice, caring woman to a mute of sorts who still can light up the screen. Natalie Portman delivers her most mature performance to date as Sara. Although she’s in it for five-seven minutes, she is amazing as a young single mother who finds solace in Inman's presence.

The film's most aggravating performance goes to Renee Zellweger as Ruby.  Though it would be the performance that won her as an Oscar.  The performance which has her look ugly and sport an accent is more of a caricature than a real character.  It's the kind of role that screams Oscar as Zellweger tries to be funny in most of the film while her attempts to be dramatic is so overdone.  Nicole Kidman doesn't fare much better as she is supposed to look beautiful and be longing for Inman.  She comes across as uptight and then when she tries to loosen up.  She underplays it too much and tries to remain all regal.  It's a very dull performance.  Jude Law is the film's best performance as Inman.  While he does have some chemistry with Kidman, it's where he's by himself or interacting with various characters.  It's a truly marvelous role for the actor.

While it has a lot of the visuals and ideas of a romantic-epic, Cold Mountain is a good film that has a lot of style but has an uneven and somewhat weak story.  Though it's not one of Anthony Minghella's great films, it does have a wonderful performance by Jude Law along with appearances from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Ray Winstone, and Natalie Portman.  It may be the kind of film that looks great on the big screen but it's doesn't deliver in what a kind of film needed in terms of grand spectacle.  In the end, Cold Mountain is a good film that is watchable though doesn't carry enough weight to be a much greater film.

(C) thevoid99 2010

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