“If you are fighting, stop fighting; if you are marching, stop marching.  Come back to me.”

COLD MOUNTAIN

An Illusion review by Joan Ellis


            Read a book about the Civil War and your imagination does its work.  Watch Ken Burns’ photographs, and the war comes to life through real faces and real battles.  But when Anthony Minghella tries to recreate that war in “Cold Mountain,” you know you are watching a movie, not a war.   Although his movie is a good story with a terrific cast, watching it unfold is like watching “High Noon” – an old fashioned star vehicle that isn’t supposed to be real. 

                Ada Munroe (Nicole Kidman) has escaped Charleston’s world of girdles and propriety to come to a mountain town with her minister father (Donald Sutherland). Ada and Inman (Jude Law), a shy young local carpenter, exchange a few words and a stolen kiss on the eve of his leaving for battle. By 1864 Ada writes, “If you are fighting, stop fighting; if you are marching, stop marching.  Come back to me.”  The movie is the story of his journey.  To their credit Law and Kidman make the love story convincing.   

                Nicole Kidman’s star is now so bright that her mere presence overwhelms everything around her.  Director Minghella’s decision not to tone down her beauty in the worst of circumstances puts the film squarely in the old Hollywood way of doing things.  Kidman’s face and her aura are all golden and peach, and when she is on screen, the war seems far away. 

                That’s not the case with Jude Law and Renee Zellweger who have managed to create and then submerse themselves in interesting characters.  Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Eileen Atkins and others hit the mood beautifully.   

                Renee Zellweger, with her limitless versatility, plays Ruby, a no nonsense mountain woman sent out to help Ada run the farm.  She will certainly earn a supporting actress nomination for the role.  Jude Law is marvelous as the man who is forever changed.  “If there was anything tender in me, it’s gone; I think I’m ruined,” Inman says, and he is.  Someone observes, “The land will not heal – too much blood,” and that’s the truth.  The South has never healed. 

The movie opens with a battle scene that uses pyrotechnics worthy of a modern blockbuster.  It is not likely that even this brutal Virgina battle would fill the screen with fire and body parts.  Director Minghella takes another formidable misstep.  Even if both southerners and northerners were guilty of the rape and torture of their countrymen and women, there is, I promise you, a prolonged and disproportionate amount of atrocity here for a two-hour movie about the Civil War. Both the personal violence and the obligatory graphic sex are out of time and place.  The director, unfortunately, has mixed his eras up.

The reunion scene with Kidman all in black against the white snow is the final exclamation point to the overdone melodrama.  We may bring the sensibilities of 2004 into the theater, but we are watching a movie rooted in the star driven 1940s. 


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