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Cold Mountain; A Visit to Hell with Harps

  • Jan 7, 2004
  • by
Pros: Sweeping vistas, cinematography; fine performances.

Cons: Black people reduced to mere props.

The Bottom Line: See the movie, if only to view once again the genius of Nicole Kidman.

Its hard to say what I thought about director Anthony Minghella's (The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley), adaptation of Cold Mountain. It was a luscious oft-times obscene mixture of the beauty and ugliness, human compassion and human cruelty; it was love, it was hatred, it was life, it was death; it was humanity gone insane.

I grew idealizing this great nation we call America, but as my youthful ignorance gave was to middle aged enlightenment the light on the America of dreams began to fade and I glimpsed more and more America in the darkness of her beginnings. Movies like Cold Mountain only shed more light on the darkness that was oftentimes our history, when we prayed upon one another like animals in the open field, and honor, in the end, very meant little to those born to harness.

Plot Line:

Based on the National Book Award winning novel by Charles Frazer, Cold Mountain is at its core a love story, wrapped in the veneer of the Civil War. The righteous Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland) and his daughter Ada (Nicole Kidman) escape the wilds of Charleston S.C. for the more serene, cleaner climate of Cold Mountain N.C.. Being born and raised in Charleston to be the quintessential “Southern Belle”, Ada is not well suited to live the life of a Cold Mountain farm maiden; a fact that will become glaringly apparent as the movie progresses.

On their way into town for the first time the Reverend and Ada with various slaves (who incidentally speak not a word) in tow, are greeted warmly by the town elders and Ada is taken under wing by a very old looking, Sally Swanger (Kathy Baker), who is providing refreshment for the “boys” building the new church the Reverend is to preach therein. One of the “boys” working on the church is W.P. Inman (Jude Law). Ada and Inman exchange rather discomfited banter, but nonetheless a life affirming romance worthy of Romeo & Juliet, is born.

This initial encounter leads to more little encounters in which Ada and Inman dance around the edges of their growing affections for one another. Against this backdrop the Civil War is flowering, and soon Inman is off to fight for the glory of his state. Just as Inman is about to leave, however Ada pays him a visit and bequeaths him a book (I was never sure what the nature of it was), her picture, and a smoldering series of passionate kisses. Love is born, it blooms, it blossoms, it is weaved into the very fabric of their souls; they are one.

War, as War is wont to do, soil’s everything and everyone it touches, and the town of Cold Mountain, thought far removed from the battlefield, is not immune to the stench of human malfeasance. In the midst of the upheaval Reverend Monroe dies and Ada has to scratch out an existence or die herself. The rule of law is all but suspended and posses called the Home Patrol are formed by men too old or too cowardly to trot off to war. They of course pray on those left behind, often with dire consequences.

After Inman is severely wounded in the neck at the siege of St. Petersburg, a volunteer at the makeshift hospital he is quartered at waiting to die, reads to him a letter from Ada he had yet to open. In it Ada, decrying the desperation of her cause, pleads for Inman to leave the war wherever he may be, and “come back to her.” And Inman complies, thus beginning an odyssey of self-sacrifice, betrayal, greed, kindness, compassion, and of course more death.

Just when Ada is near the brink of starvation and (insanity), Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger), blows in on an ill winter wind, looking disheveled, but otherwise worldly. Ruby is a long-time friend of Sally Swanger's, and seeks no money in exchange for her help, just a place to sleep and food to eat. Ruby as portrayed by Ms. Zellweger is a loud, spirited, handy-women type who adds a bit of color the black and white world Cold Mountain has become for Ada. Of curse Ruby and Ada form a reluctant, if not respectful friendship which given the fullness of time will deepened and become co-dependent ala Fried Green Tomatoes.

Almost all of the performances were laudable and believable; Natalie Portman’s sequence left my soul gasping both for the sweetness and overwhelming human need portrayed, and for the almost mind numbing cruelty which followed at the hands of men whose honor was lacking.

Ms Kidman seems to maintain her earthy beauty even in the worst of situations, and her performance, as usual was par-excellence, except my wife noted that she seemed to loose her southern accent at times; a condition I admit I did not notice. She also noted that Ms. Zellweger was oft-times over the top with her performance, something I did notice, but it was not overly distracting.

Surprisingly, there were very few Black people in this film; given the time and place I found it very hard to believe none lived in Cold Mountain. What few happened upon the screen were reduced to mere props, saying not a word, as I pointed out earlier.

The ending of the movie left me feeling cheated; I wanted a happy ending after all the depressing backwash of human evil run unchecked. And thought some of the hues were there, the rainbow of happy endings was not complete.


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More Cold Mountain reviews
review by . January 02, 2009
Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) and her preacher father come to live in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, just before the start of the Civil War. She is attracted to the shy, handsome Inman, (Jude Law), and he to her, but before they can speak what is in their hearts, he is off to fight, with just a tintype of Ada to comfort him. She endures the rigors of the homefront, aided by mountain girl Ruby (Renee Zellweger); together they survive Yankees, the local militia, and hunger. Inman, meanwhile, has seen …
review by . November 17, 2008
If this movie weren't a drama, one could almost put together a joke about the main characters. Playing Southerners, with accents as thick as molasses, Jude Law (the Englishman) plays the uni-named Inman, and Nicole Kidman (the Australian phenom from Honolulu)plays Ada Monroe, but neither can compare with the homegrown Renee Zellweger (Ruby Thewes), who steals the movie neatly from under the feet of her two stellar co-stars.     Despite the benefit of a supporting cast of biggish …
review by . December 26, 2003
Pros: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renee Zelwegger - story line, scenery     Cons: A little long perhaps     This film vividly recreates the emotions and images of a terrible chapter in American History. Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zelwegger give solid performances and bring the characters of Cold Mountain to life.       The film boils down to the dramatically shifted realities of a Southern town in North Carolina and ultimately a handful …
About the reviewer
Vincent Martin ()
Ranked #187
I am an IT Professional and have worked in the industry for over 20 years. I may be a computer geek, but I also like reading, writing, cooking, music, current events and regretfully, politics.
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