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Movie Review

Cold Mountain

MPAA Rating: R for violence and sexuality.

Reviewed by: Brett Willis
STAFF WRITER

Very Offensive
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Adults
Genre:
War Romance Drama
Length:
2 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release:
2003
USA Release:
December 25, 2003
Copyright, Miramax click photos to ENLARGE
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Miramax

war in the Bible

What is the Biblical perspective on war? Answer

rape victims’ stories

shame and rape

sin and the fall of man

FEAR, Anxiety and Worry—What does the Bible say? Answer

false teachers

Featuring: Jude LawInman
Nicole KidmanAda Monroe
Renée ZellwegerRuby Thewes
Eileen Atkins … Maddy
Brendan GleesonStobrod Thewes
Philip Seymour HoffmanReverend Veasey
Natalie PortmanSara
Giovanni RibisiJunior
Donald SutherlandReverend Monroe
Ray WinstoneTeague
Kathy Baker … Sally Swanger
more »
Director: Anthony Minghella
Producer: Miramax
Mirage Enterprises
more »
Distributor: Miramax

This is a hauntingly beautiful film that pulls the viewer into the characters’ tragic lives, thereby underscoring the human cost of war.

“Cold Mountain” opens with a literal blast. It’s 1864, Virginia. Federal troops have dug a hundred-yard-long tunnel, opened a cavern beneath an outer line of Confederate defenses, and packed it with explosives. When they touch off the fuse, many soldiers who thought they were at least momentarily safe from attack are blown to bits. W.P. Inman (Jude Law), a North Carolina soldier, is injured in the attack, but recovers and fights back when the Federals’ ill-advised charge ends up in a bottleneck. The hand-to-hand fighting is sickening to watch.

The first hour of the film uses repeated flashback technique. Three years earlier, Inman made the acquaintance of Ada (Nicole Kidman), the daughter of Pastor Monroe (Donald Sutherland). Theirs was a proper and very distant romance, with only a single kiss just as Inman left to join the war. But as Inman witnesses the horrors of the battlefield and Ada faces hardship at home, the one stabilizing force for both of them is the hope that they may be reunited someday.

Inman, in a makeshift military hospital recovering from wounds, decides to go AWOL and rejoin Ada if he can. On the way home to Cold Mountain, he meets many strange people and has several close encounters with the Confederate Home Guard who are hunting down deserters. Ada, meanwhile, has been helped by the arrival of rough-edged Ruby Thewes (Rene Zellweger) who teaches her the basic principles of farm work. The offbeat Ruby, who says she was alternately beaten and ignored by her father and who believes in being self-sufficient, supplies some much-needed comic relief.

The film is well-crafted; the acting is superb all around (although I don’t think Kidman was the best choice for her part); the cinematography and musical score are excellent.

There are about twenty profanities, including a few curses or exclamations. No f-words. Some of the bathroom profanity is meant literally, relating to a man’s problem with constipation.

The violence is extreme in spots. We’re made to care about several characters, then forced to see them die. The actions of the Home Guard, and those of three Federal soldiers on a foraging and looting mission, are disgusting (mistreating a baby; torturing people to make them “talk;” etc.).

There are three strong sex scenes. One is an attempted rape, which is foiled; one is a “trick” where several women distract some men so they can be more easily arrested by the Home Guard. The only scene that actually implies intercourse is “marital” (the couple, being fugitives from the law, can’t have a real wedding, but they pledge themselves as married to each other before having sex). There’s NO reason for the nudity and other coarseness in these scenes, except that that’s the way it’s done these days. They could have been shot more discreetly and put the point across just as well. Besides these three scenes, there are other scenes with sex-related and double-entendre dialogue. Sex and violence are often linked together.

Despite being played by Sutherland, Ada’s minister father doesn’t come off as a discredit to Christianity. He’s actually a rather pleasant fellow. Rev. Veasey (Philip Seymour Hoffman), a minister that Inman meets on his journey home, is something else again. Veasey has gotten a black woman (presumably his slave) pregnant, so he’s drugged her and intends to throw her into the river. Later, he responds eagerly to a prostitute’s offer of sex for thirty dollars. He also steals property, and makes a joke about it along the lines that he knows which actions the Lord takes lightly or seriously.

There’s a supernatural element in the storyline: Ada is able to see the future by looking into a mirror that’s aimed down a well.

There are several scenes involving killing or butchering of animals (all simulated, I assume). This, of course, is a normal farming and hunting activity; but like several other elements in the film, it seems to be placed here for shock value.

Is the overall film an anti-war statement? I’m not sure. I found it to be food for thought in several ways. Any film that has Confederates as the central characters can’t be entirely Politically Correct. At one point, Inman says something about not wanting to fight for a cause he no longer believes in; but it’s not clear whether he means that his cause was unjust, or only that it’s hopeless (probably the latter).

“Cold Mountain” has been compared by some reviewers to the 1965 version of “Doctor Zhivago” (which is set in Russia during World War One and the Bolshevik Revolution). True, there are some similarities. In both films, the central-character couple would just like to be able to have a life together, but the consequences of war all around them won’t allow them any peace. In terms of theme, “Cold Mountain” is the less offensive of the two, because the central couple in Dr. Z. are in a long-term adulterous relationship. But in terms of on-screen presentation, “Cold Mountain” is much more offensive. The harshness of its technique is almost indescribable. While some mature adults might pick up something positive from having seen it, I don’t recommend it to anyone. Certainly no one under 18.

Violence: Extreme | Profanity: Moderate | Sex/Nudity: Extreme

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—I recently watched this movie for the first time and was impressed. I found the film to be a surprisingly beautiful and sorrowful representation of the War Between the States. While (as almost everyone else has said) the film has two main scenes of nudity/sexuality and one scene where attempted rape is suggested, this does not automatically make it a “bad” movie. I’m a firm believer in being realistic in movies, books, etc. Maybe that’s because I’m an English major (at a conservative college) and am learning that reading/hearing a “bad word” or knowing that some sinful action is implied in a situation does not inherently make a book or movie evil.

However, I AM against being explicit, which, I will admit, the movie verges on in these two scenes of nudity. Nevertheless, the movie presents humanity in all its grime, decay, and troubles. Sometimes Christians can benefit from seeing a movie about non-Christians or lost/false Christians—such as the characters of Rev. Monroe and Veasley. more »
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Liz Kruizenga, age 20 (USA)
Positive—This film does have a very rough edge… as did the reality of the Civil War. This is an adult film; don’t take children. Having said that, I thought the film was very good. This was a very difficult time in the history of our Nation, and “Cold Mountain” certainly reflects this. Savage things did happen, this was WAR.

Some of the sex was unnecessary and did not add to the storyline, but if viewed by adults and in the understanding of the context of the historical period depicted, it was not so “over the top” that I would avoid the movie. As a Christian, I can view “sex” in the context presented in this movie without freaking and with the understanding that not all movies have to be “family” movies suitable for small children. This is a good movie.
My Ratings: [Average/4]
—Tim Henderson, age 48
Positive—“Better than average.” I feel like I’m lying through my teeth in giving that response, but the film does contain material that is by definition offensive. …life is not candy coated… never has been and never will be. Easily, this is the Best Picture of the decade since Mel Gibson’s magnificent epic, “Braveheart”.

I will blatantly promote this film and its timeless message for years to come. Why? Why is a Christian condoning a film that contains sexuality, nudity, violence and “very offensive” material? Because every single ounce of content in the film reinforces the central theme: Quest, a mission with purpose, and ultimately, attaining the prize at the pilgrimage’s finale… more »
My Ratings: [Better than Average/5]
—Larry, age 20
Positive—Although I understand the issues that many in this Christian community at this review site have voiced concerning nudity and violence within this movie, I must say that I found it to be a very positive experience. True, there was a lot of violence in this movie (it WAS a Civil War movie), but this was a period-piece about a period of our history that was violent and about people that were rough. The violence was to be expected.

I feel that sometimes we look to shield ourselves from violence so much that we forget how rough the world is. Violence was a part of their lives and this film gave us a glimpse. What I was very impressed with in “Cold Mountain” was finally seeing a movie with a central character that had morals and was able to weather the storm while maintaining his values. His devotion never waivered in the face of evil (death, temptation, etc). That was refreshing!!

Yes, the movie was violent and there was nudity that might have been avoided, but at least there was a light that shown through the darkness. After all, isn’t that what Jesus asks us to do… The world is dark. We are in it. Be a light in the world!
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—Brian Jordan, age 31
Neutral
Neutral—A beautifully shot film and a wonderfully romantic film. It is marred, however, by gratuitous scenes of explicit sexuality and nudity that do not add anything to the film. It is a violent film that realistically depicts the depravity of man and communities when rules and order are eroded by times that “try men’s (and womens’) souls.”

Not a film to take your family to (it is rated R), and it is difficult to recommend anything but an edited version to friends who take their Christian worldview seriously. Too bad! Hollywood insists upon doing things simply because they can and feel people want to see it (nudity and excessive violence).
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
—Tony, age 46
Neutral—…beautiful… cinematography. …performances were great, especially Renée Zellweger as Ruby. I was glad whenever her character appeared in the movie. While I was caught up in Inman’s (Jude Law) journey back home after going AWOL, I wasn’t totally caught up in the love and romance between him and Ada (Nicole Kidman). The relationship between them just isn’t built up enough for the viewer to yearn for their getting back together. However, it is still a good story and easy to follow, despite much of the film being flashbacks. The violence is often brutal, but not gory. My main objection as a Christian, was the nudity and sexuality.

Be warned, there is a very raunchy scene in a cabin where Inman and a “minister” (played by Phillip Seymour Hoffman) are seduced by women after drinking some kind of alcohol. The “minister” is one of the interesting people Inman crosses paths with on his trek home. A graphic sex scene appears near the end of the film between Inman and Ada. I think the director Anthony Minghella has a thing with filming nudity and sex. He brought us the overrated and adultery/nudity/sex laden “The English Patient.” He almost has a great movie here with “Cold Mountain,” but he certainly cheapened it.

However, despite the sexuality in the movie, I still think it was a good cinematic experience, but certainly one for a mature viewer.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/5]
—Scott, age 28
Negative
Negative—…We were thoroughly disappointed in the film. First of all, the romance was largely created in the minds of two strangers, Ada and Innman. They barely knew each other when he left for the war, and yet as they were separated, they imagined true love between them. It perpetuates the myth that true love is possible from the first meeting, a pit into which one falls. Perhaps they did come to love each other, but it seemed a little silly. As for the sensuality, we were embarrassed. Nicole Kidman appears nude, which is nothing new.

But the most shocking sex scene of all appears right before Innman and his preacher friend are caught by the deserter hunters. They clearly walk in during some kind of group sex scene and another woman raises her dress, leans forward on a table and invites Innman to have sex with her. All of the sex scenes could have been cut without changing the meaning, and it is clear they were included to attract viewers. I do not recommend this movie.
—Caroline Mooney, age 39
Negative—Trust me… avoid this movie! The majority of comments that I have read fall along two lines. a) It is graphic and offensive. b) It is a beautifully made film. I agree completely with the first. No one should see some of the sexual scenes in this movie. I completely disagree with the notion that this is a really “well made” film. The war scenes are very brief, and though the opening battle has some gruesome footage, it does not have nearly the emotional impact that some more famous war scenes such as “Braveheart” or “Saving Private Ryan” had. I found it all to be quite emotionally empty. And the most important thing is that the film never delivers. The audience is waiting for 3 hours to have the shoe drop and it never does. You walk out of the theatre wondering why you just wasted 3 hours of your life. Not one redeeming thing comes out of this film.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/3]
—Scott Ross, age 31
Negative—I went to go see “Cold Mountain” with my family on CHRISTmas day. Unfortunately, we did not know it contained extremely vulgar sex scenes, including prostitution and close camera views of sexual activity. It was extremely offensive, and I pray that no one else will spend their money nor their-family-time to watch this movie. I was displeased and disgusted, and I pray God removes these images from my mind…
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/2]
—Candice Doyle, age 18
Negative—Don’t go see this movie. This is one of those movies that you wish you had walked out of.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/3]
—Steve Smith, age 25
Negative—This was a very disappointing movie. As a Southerner and a North Carolinian, I was deeply offended that we are portrayed, in the main, as degenerates. The young married clergyman was depicted as a most immoral person… actually a disgusting individual. The sex scenes were revolting and completely unnecessary.

This film should have had as X rating, not a PG-13. I saw very little of redeeming value, except the scenery and that wasn’t even North Carolina but, as it turns out, Romania. The movie is a fraud… the Civil War is only a backdrop, and badly portrayed at that. It is an implausible love story acted out by a Brit and an Australian who did a lousy job with their North Carolina accents. I wish I had my money back. Stay away from this one, but if you do see it, do not take 3 under 18 years of age. What a trashy offering!
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive]
—Pamela, age 55
Negative—I am a retired military officer, and I found the film to be offensive with its anti-war portrayal and by celebrating the “hero” for going AWOL to seek the comforts of a woman he hardly knows. He forsook his neighbors and countrymen for a self serving gain. I believe the 'love' portrayed between the hero and heroine is rather shallow and offers the wrong idea of the proper love between and a prospective bride and groom. I don’t believe their love glorified God’s design for us.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Richard W Hawkins, age 54
Negative—It’s a good thing movie theaters are dark because I was terribly embarrassed by the two very explicit scenes already mentioned concerning the woman offering herself to Inman and the sex scene between Inman and Ada. As other reviewers have suggested, this movie could have been made without these two explicit scenes, and it would have been all the better for it! I really, really wanted to see this movie based on the movie trailers I had seen, not to mention the fact that I had received the book as a Christmas gift. I came away sadly disappointed and rather disgusted.

How is it that Hollywood can take a fairly decent book (not without it objectionable parts itself, though) and make a mess of it? …Two good things I can say from both seeing the film and reading the book is that the music is fabulous, and, as a life-long Southerner, the horrible conditions many lived in during the duration of the Civil War have been made a vivid reality to me.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Julia, age 36
Negative—As Christian we are deeply troubled by a film so dark and hopeless as this one. Watching the violence of war is one thing, but the filmmakers went to great lengths to show us the ugly side of life, scene after scene. We rarely see R rated films, but we love history and the South, so we took a chance. It is definitely anti war, but it is anti-hope. There is nothing redeeming about this film except the friendship between Ada and Ruby. We left with visions of nudity and graphic death as Southerners killed their own. This does not glorify God in any way. I’m embarrassed to have seen it.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/1]
—Jan Coleman, age 54
Negative—This had excellent story possibilities, but the lust, explicitly portrayed, the cruelty, again expansive, turned it into a high-class porno flick, played well by a well known actress. Be aware, you will be hiding your head and sorry you went, if you value watching over your heart.
My Ratings: [Extremely Offensive/4]
—P. Lowe, age 65
Negative—…a huge dissappointment. The nudity/sexuality was over the top and unnecessary. The explicit details were very offensive. I enjoyed the story and setting until the ill-fated ending. I was so involved in the characters and was so let down at the end. Please don’t go see this movie.
My Ratings: [Very Offensive/4]
—Jennifer Merchan, age 26
Comments from young people
Positive—I was 13 years old when I saw the movie. I thought it was a brilliantly created movie, However, there were 2 different scenes of nudity/sexuality in this film that were a bit over done. But I think that if you are mature enough to overlook the few adult elements then you should definitly watch this beautiful film.
My Ratings: [Average/5]
—Annie, age 14
Movie Critics
…I have a feeling that after the word gets out about “Cold Mountain” and its depressing ending, some may end up giving it a cold reception at the box office…
—Holly McClure, CrossWalk
…We desperately need a payoff for our emotional investment—some sense of atonement, perhaps—but all we get is relief when the film is over…
—William Arnold, Seattle Post-Intelligencer
…Easily the most romantic movie of the year …also one of the best. …Easily the most romantic movie of the year, “Cold Mountain” is also one of the best
—Eleanor Ringel Gillespie, Atlanta Journal-Constitution
…The fruits of wickedness are in full cinematic color in Cold Mountain with more than enough bloody violence and sexual depravity to chill the soul…
—Blaine Butcher, Preview Family Movie and TV Review
…The sexual content …feels especially grating and gratuitous …and is sometimes shrilly explicit. …Minghella [the Director]… displays an unquenchable thirst for the salacious and the excessive…
—Steven Isaac, Plugged In
…The movie disparages Christians by showing the one preacher (Donald Sutherland) to be kindhearted, yet one who takes no stand on issues, and the other preacher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) to be mouthy and sinful, indulging his carnal nature at every turn…
—Lisa A. Rice, Movieguide
…Stirring and sad and lovely all at the same time, this movie reaches for cinematic heights—and often finds them…
—E! Online
…Frigid and detached to the point of numbness, the passionless period piece is too staged, too dry, and too silly to matter…
—Sean O'Connell, filmcritic.com
…vivid depiction of tragedy, waste and the plundering of a generation… the equal of any Civil War movie ever made…
—Mike Clark, USA Today
…takes excellent actors and dunks them in romance so gloopy they drown. …It’s a journey full of incident, but no soul…
—Nev Pierce, BBC
…Much like its star, Cold Mountain is gorgeous but chilly. …It’s a film to be admired rather than loved, lacking the all-necessary emotional connection that separates technically sound moviemaking from touching human drama…
—Bill Muller, The Arizona Republic

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