Reviewed by: Brett Willis
Jude Law … Inman
Nicole Kidman … Ada Monroe
Renée Zellweger … Ruby Thewes
Eileen Atkins … Maddy
Brendan Gleeson … Stobrod Thewes
Philip Seymour Hoffman … Reverend Veasey
Natalie Portman … Sara
Giovanni Ribisi … Junior
Donald Sutherland … Reverend Monroe
Ray Winstone … Teague
Kathy Baker … Sally Swanger
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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.