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Cold Mountain

Reviewed By Chris Parry
Posted 01/08/04 10:01:28

"Like all of Minghella's films, the best performance comes from the scenery."
4 stars (Worth A Look)

While there can be no doubt that Cold Mountain is an epic film that keeps your attention from start to finish, there's just something about it that grates. The cast is huge, the backdrops magnificent, the score sweeping, the effects humungous, but there's one thing in every film that can tear every other quality apart if it isn't just right; that'd be chemistry. And Cold Mountain has about as much chemistry as Jodie Foster and Colin Farrell.

Inman (Jude Law) is a Civil War soldier who'd like to be somewhere other than the front lines of the nastiest war in American history. His buddies are being mowed down, one after another, and he's escaped death more times than he cares to think about. And then there's the porcelain-doll-like Ada (Nicole Kidman) who is waiting for him at home. No more death AND you get to throw the leg over Kidman every night? Geez, with that kind of incentive, who wouldn't go AWOL?

So Inman walks. And walks. And walks.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, Ada is struggling to stay alive. With nobody to work the farm (she lets the slaves go early on) and no survival skills of her own, it's looking bleak for the preacher's daughter when an odd girl by the name of Ruby (Renee Zellweger) turns up to lend a hand.

Cold Mountain is like a collection of short stories, weaved together into one. At every few miles of his journey, Inman encounters danger, death, new characters (all seemingly played by A-list stars) and derring do. Ada, at the same time, has her own misadventures as she and Ruby tangle themselves in an odd couple relationship that is the kind of stuff Disney films are made of.

And it's all a lot of fun. Minghella's opening war scenes rival Spielberg's Saving Private Ryan opening as perhaps the best, most gruesome depiction of the horror of war ever seen on the screen. And unlike Spielberg's flick, the rest of the film isn't a letdown - there's humor, thrills, drama, but don't be fooled that there's a whole lot of romance because that's where every Anthony Minghella film seems to fall flat.

Sure, everyone claimed to love the English Patient when it hit the scene a few years back, but who amongst us owns a copy? Ditto The Talented Mr Ripley - impeccable cast, great scenery, tepid storyline. And now, with Cold Mountain, Minghella proves he has the mechanics of filmmaking down to a old science, but when it comes to romance he's flailing helplessly.

Regretably, the most romantic scene in the entire film comes not between the lead pairing, where it should, but between Jude Law and a girl he encounters on the way home, played by Natalie Portman. Portman delivers such a strong, emotional, unforgettable performance in what really is a small part, that you almost want Law to stop walking right there and then and stay a while. But it doesn't come from Minghella's direction or Charles Frazier's original novel, it comes from the supreme talent that is Portman, and the matching ability that sits within Law.

Zellweger will be talked of for Oscars for her performance, and heck, she might even win it. But the heart and soul of Cold Mountain lies within that ten minute Portman sequence; a scene that should have simply been another bump in the road for Law's character. By demonstrating what Oscarworthy acting is really all about, Portman points out exactly where Cold Mountain goes from masterpiece to simply a very good big budget costume film. The film is well worth a ticket price, but don't buy into the English Patient-like hype that this is the pinnacle of cinema... That'd be Lord of the Rings III.

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