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'Cold Mountain'

'Cold Mountain' is a real high

Thursday, December 25, 2003

By Barbara Vancheri, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

This is what they mean by the magic of the movies: A British director born to Italian parents re-creates Civil War America in Romania, with the help of another Brit as leading man, an Australian actress and the Romanian army.

 
 

"Cold Mountain"

Rating: R for violence and sexuality

Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman

Director: Anthony Minghella

   
 

And the astonishing thing is, in watching "Cold Mountain," all of that falls away, leaving a beautifully photographed movie that transports us to a long-ago time and place. There is never any doubt about where moviegoers' loyalties should lie when they meet a deserting Confederate soldier who is willing to walk hundreds of miles to get to the woman he hardly knows but could not love more. As he tells a good Samaritan, "She's the place I'm headed."

"Cold Mountain," based on the Charles Frazier best seller inspired by real stories passed down by his family, stars Nicole Kidman as Ada Monroe, a woman called "a true Southern belle." She has come from Charleston in the 1860s with her preacher father (Donald Sutherland) to Cold Mountain, N.C., and it's there that she encounters a quiet man named Inman (Jude Law) who "works wood" for a living.

They engage in a shy courtship before Inman goes off to war, with a photo of Ada, the memory of a passionate kiss and her promise, "I'll be waiting for you." But much changes in the intervening years as Ada's father dies and she finds herself helpless and penniless, and Inman is wounded and witnesses the brutality, chaos and futility of a war that is lost or soon will be.

As Inman decides to return home -- on foot, dodging runaway slaves, bounty hunters, Yankee and Confederate soldiers, Home Guard vigilantes and others -- Ada struggles to survive. As she tells the newcomer who proves to be her salvation, she can embroider but not darn, arrange flowers but not grow them and is well-educated but not schooled in what it takes to run a farm.

But Ruby (Renee Zellweger, who enters at the one-hour mark), a feisty stranger who offers to help in exchange for room and board, can do all of the things Ada cannot. They struggle to get the farm back in working order as Inman faces obstacle after obstacle in his odyssey.

Ada and Inman reside at the center of "Cold Mountain," but stories radiate out from them like spokes. Natalie Portman, especially, is heartbreaking as an isolated young widow with a sick baby, a husband who died at Gettysburg and an ache just to feel another body in bed. It's out of balance that her pain should resonate more than anything in the movie.

Also turning up in key supporting roles: Kathy Baker and James Gammon as kind Cold Mountain neighbors; Ray Winstone as Teague, the vicious head of the Home Guard who covets Ada's land; Philip Seymour Hoffman as a disgraced minister; Giovanni Ribisi as a backwoodsman who invites Inman to his table; Brendan Gleeson as a traveling fiddler; and many more.

As in "The Hours," Kidman's character descends into desperation, but here, she has a frayed lifeline in her love for Inman. And she has Ruby, played a shade too much like a young Granny Clampett at first by Zellweger, to pull her back and acquaint her with a new way of life that involves blisters on her hands.

Law, who worked with director Anthony Minghella on "The Talented Mr. Ripley," brings a haunted, hungry look to his soldier and a quiet determination that seems perfectly in tune with Inman's taciturn country manner. (Although, as a jaundiced colleague pointed out, it's unlikely that 1860s Americans would have had such fine teeth.)

Minghella, who says he had to go to Romania to find a match for virgin forests of Civil War America, has created a portrait of a South divided, of parents who risk their lives to keep their sons safe, of starving soldiers who think anything or anyone is for the taking, of surprisingly kind and conniving strangers, and of a love that ends both unhappily and happily ever after.


Barbara Vancheri can be reached at bvancheri@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1632.

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