Cast & Crew
Philip Seymour Hoffman
Produced by Steve
E. Andrews, Albert Berger, Tim Bricknell, William Horberg,
Bob Osher, Sydney Pollack, Iain Smith, Bob Weinstein, Harvey
Weinstein and Ron Yerxa; Directed and written by
Anthony Minghella; based on the novel by Charles
2003; Rated R for violence and sexuality; Running
Time: 155 Minutes
Domestic Release Date:
December 25, 2003
by DAVID KEYES
Mitchell were alive to see the continuing fascination with
the Civil War in motion pictures, she might have regretted
the penning of "Gone With The Wind." Her most
famous and honored literary work didn't just inspire an
equally-famous 5-hour film epic, after all, it also created
the shell for which nearly every similarly-themed movie
in the 60-odd years to follow would use as a housing unit,
some so directly that they could pass off as cheap imitations.
Whatever the reason behind so many filmmakers being so directly
motivated by the work of one 1930s movie, however, the audience's
continued fascination with the era no doubt fuels their
efforts. Why? Not because moviegoers are interested in the
war or its long and exhausting conflicts; likely, they are
still amused by the period's amusing sense of social skill,
as it typically involved, especially in the south, people
communicating through clever analogies or lengthy discussions
entirely spoken through the excessive use of metaphors.
This is ultimately one of the major attractions to the idea
of doing a Civil War film; everything else, including battle
sequences, character strategy, moral conflicts and visual
presentation, have all become side dishes.
is essentially the backbone that drives "Cold Mountain,"
a film that works, more or less, simply for being about
real characters and how they cope with situations. Trying
to nail down a specific classification of its story, in
fact, is an agonizing prospect because the plot exists only
as a driving force, not as a foundation. This movie could
be considered a love story, a war epic, a character study
or just a plain old fashioned tale of survival; whatever
the answer, the film doesn't make it directly known. And
while that notion may keep the film itself from being good
enough to warrant all of its recent praise, that does not
dismiss the fact that it's a solid and observant work regardless,
driven by the very notion that characters are being genuine
with us on screen through all sorts of ordeals instead of
trying to pass off as dramatized versions of their respective
plot, at least at the introductory stage, deals with the
bond between two citizens of Cold Mountain, a rural mountain
town in North Carolina where everyone seems to know everyone
else even when they don't really want to. Ada Monroe (Nicole
Kidman) is a new arrival to the peaceful place, and she
makes her first connection there with Inman (Jude Law),
a carpenter and farm worker whose deep eyes say enough in
long glances to keep physical conversation between the two
to a minimum. Their infatuation is instantaneous, their
attraction unmistakable. They never really learn enough
about one another to warrant much of a connection, but when
Inman is whisked away to fight for the south in the ever-chaotic
Civil War, they each succumb to a brief moment of passion
powerful enough to drive them for the rest of the movie.
"I will wait for you," she tells him in a whisper,
and we instantly gather that he's ready to come home even
before he has stepped onto the battle fields.
the screenplay demands both characters to spend the majority
of the movie apart, and during that time it supplies them
with hordes of acquaintances and enemies to pass the time
(and when I say "hordes," I mean that in every
sense of the word). The most notable among them is Ruby
Thewes (Renee Zellweger), a farm-hand who is hired by Ada
after her father dies to help tend the farm before she loses
it to a greedy land owner scouring the area looking to reclaim
former properties. Ruby is colorful, vivacious and zealous
down to the very dialogue she utters, and Renee Zellweger
delivers her with such a striking presence that it nearly
overshadows everyone else around her. She isn't just spouting
out one-liners or vivid comparisons for the sake of comic
relief, thoughit's almost as if she is directly channeling
Hattie McDaniel's grand performance in "Gone With the
Wind" and then making it her own. The work is more
than enough to redeem her for a certain performance in a
highly overrated 2002 Rob Marshall musical film.
are others, including a cleverly-disguised pimp played by
Giovanni Ribisi who uses his brothel as some twisted form
of entrapment, and a married preacher played by Philip Seymour
Hoffman whom Inman catches just as he is about to drown
the black woman he is having an affair with. Oddly enough,
though, the excessive use of supporting players doesn't
bog down the audience's fascination; in fact, it enhances
the desire to watch more, as the love story between the
two main players is of the least importance during the film's
middle patch. Furthermore, the journeys and experiences
that either Inman and Ada experience during their slow journey
back to one another results in some of the best cinematography
seen in a war epic in some time. The movie captures the
beauty of its rustic landscapes, but it also doesn't overemphasize
it, either; after all, no one said that the authenticity
of your setting depends on you making ugly things seem less
uglier than they really are.
the movie isn't focused on being a "who's-who?"
of ensemble actors, it's contemplating the significant moral
dilemmas of its era. Of course, such an undertaking has
been exhausted countless times in the genre already, and
that's where "Cold Mountain" makes its biggest
mistake. It lacks distinction on an internal level, as none
of the issues it brings up add anything new to the argument
about the war or its effect on people. To top it all off,
the movie staggers these messages in a way that is almost
too eccentric for its own good. The movie isn't even always
linear-in fact, the big war sequence happens early
on in the film before the central premise is even established.
The structure isn't confusing, but it's dissonant and hectic
and rather pointless.
writer Charles Frazier's famous novel genuinely adopts ideas
from other things besides "Gone With the Wind,"
then the primary source is Homer's "The Odyssey,"
which, in a nearly identical manner, deals with one man's
journey from war to home and all the bizarre side adventures
he has along the way. The screen transition doesn't always
come off as fluid as it should (perhaps because certain
elements in the movie are treated in a tone that is either
too lighthearted or too absurd for the tough subject matter),
but in the end we aren't really paying enough attention
to the film's odd structure to make it much of a distraction.
This is the kind of movie you watch for all the reasons
that continue to make the essence of Civil War films so
appealing in the first placethe magnetism between
characters, their dialogue, their mannerisms, and the atmosphere
the story throws them into. It all works in the end, although
not enough to be as great as the studio would like you to
believe it is.
© 2004, David Keyes, Cinemaphile.org.
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if the above review contains any spelling or grammar mistakes.