May 2, 2003
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Donald Sutherland, Ray Winstone, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Kathy Baker, James Gammon, Giovanni Ribisi, Eileen Atkins, Charlie Hunnam, Jena Malone, Ethan Suplee, ,
Adapted from Charles Frazier’s book of the same name, Cold Mountain (2003) is an epic odyssey of one man’s struggle to travel back home to the woman he loves set against the backdrop of the American Civil War. Unfairly snubbed at last year’s Academy Awards, it is a moving film that has been given the royal treatment on DVD.
Cold Mountain starts off with a powerful scene. It is near the end of the Civil War and the Union army stages a sneak attack against the Confederates. A massive explosion decimates the Southern forces but the resultant crater traps the Union soldiers, making them easy targets. Caught up in this hellacious carnage is Inman (Law), a Confederate foot soldier. After watching a friend of his die before his very eyes and getting wounded by friendly fire, he decides to desert the army and head back home to Cold Mountain where the love of his life, Ada Monroe (Kidman), waits for his return.
After her father (Sutherland) dies, Ada fends for herself until a plucky young woman named Ruby (Zellweger) arrives to help her out with chores around the homestead. The two women become friends and learn from each other. Meanwhile, Inman makes the dangerous journey home. Along the way he meets a colourful assortment of characters, from a lecherous preacher (Hoffman) to a lonely widow (Portman) in need of solace. He is also being pursued by Teague (Winstone), a vicious man who ruthlessly hunts down deserters and tortures anyone who helps them.
The first thing that one notices about Cold Mountain is the incredible attention to period detail. The costumes and the sets (Romania doubles as North Carolina) all look authentic. Everything has that grimy, lived-in look. The film also features some truly stunning cinematography by Minghella’s long-time collaborator, John Seale (The Perfect Storm). He uses the widescreen aspect ratio to maximum effect by showing off the vast scale of the epic battle scenes and the stunning landscape of the lush, green wilderness that Inman travels: a wide variety of tall grass, verdant forests and mucky swamplands.
Some have called this an anti-war film. Filmmaker Anthony Minghella shows an unflinching depiction of the savagery and brutality of the opening battle scene. Men kill each other with primitive weapons and their struggle is captured through a hellish red filter. The aftermath shows huge piles of bodies from both sides—it’s carnage on an epic scale.
Jude Law not only physically transforms himself into Inman with a beard and a grungy, dirty appearance, but he also sports a credible southern accent. However, there is more to his performance than these surface details. After the bloodshed he has witnessed, something inside him changes. It can be seen in Law’s eyes—a haunted quality, a loss of humanity. It’s an intense performance and one that doesn’t require much speaking on Law’s part, most of his performance is conveyed visually through his body language or facial expressions. He has a genuine charisma that makes him a compelling actor to watch.
Nicole Kidman looks radiant as ever and proves that she can master pretty much any accent. However, she does more than just look beautiful. She does a fine job showing the transformation her character undergoes over the course of the movie. Ada starts off as a prim and proper lady who must learn how to survive on her own. Kidman has a tough role as she plays a woman distraught over the hardships she’s endured and also pining for Inman, not knowing if he’s alive or dead.
Renee Zellweger plays Ruby as a larger than life character with the gift for the gab. Where Ada is more contemplatative, Ruby lets it all hang out as she tells anyone who will listen exactly what is on her mind. Zellweger does an excellent job of setting the right tone for her character with a memorable first appearance that has her effortlessly snapping the head off of a rooster without a second thought. This clearly establishes Ruby as someone not to be messed with and who will whip Ada into shape. Zellweger veers close to caricature but doesn’t quite go over the line.
The first DVD features an audio commentary with writer-director Anthony Minghella and editor Walter Murch. The filmmaker explains that he wanted to make a movie in which nature and man collided (much like Terrence Malick’s The Thin Red Line). He goes into great detail about the themes of the movie while Murch, not surprisingly, talks about how it was assembled through editing. Both men are very eloquent speakers and provide a fascinating look at how to make an epic period drama.
The second DVD begins with an exhaustive 70-minute documentary entitled, “Climbing Cold Mountain.” It starts off with the transition from novel to screenplay. Minghella candidly admits that he wasn’t particularly interested in the Civil War or doing another literary adaptation, but the emotional core of the novel appealed to him. Pretty much every aspect, from location scouting to casting, is examined in detail. There are excellent interviews with the principal actors (Law, Kidman, Zellweger) who talk about their experiences working on the movie. This is fantastic look at the tremendous amount of work that went into making Cold Mountain.
There are 11 deleted scenes that are redundant for the most part and it is obvious to see why there were cut. However, there is a nice scene between Ada and Ruby and footage that provides chilling closure to the relationship between Inman and Sara (Portman).
“The Words and Music of Cold Mountain” is a classy, 90-minute concert featuring many of the musicians who contributed to the movie’s soundtrack, including Jack White, Sting and Alison Krauss. Filmmaker Sydney Pollack introduces the show and film critic David Thompson interviews Minghella about the origins of the movie. Interspersed amongst the musical performances are readings from Charles Frazier’s book by actors Brendan Gleeson, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law. This is an impressive extra that fans of the movie will really enjoy.
“A Journey to Cold Mountain” is a 30-minute Making Of featurette that is more along the lines of press kit material. It feels a bit redundant after watching the 70-minute documentary and the 90-minute concert.
Musician Tim Eriksen talks about the “Sacred Harp History” which is a book of songs and the specific way they were song back in the day. This way of singing was shown early on in the film when Ada, Inman and the townsfolk sing in the church.
Finally, there is a “Storyboard Comparison” which looks at three scenes from the movie and how they match up with the storyboards.
Cold Mountain shows how the Civil War touched everyone. It made women into widows and turned brother against brother. It left thousands dead or maimed and left the United States devastated for a long time afterwards. Minghella’s film is balanced in that it shows inhuman acts perpetrated on both sides and how two people find each other amidst all of this chaos and madness. Miramax has assembled an impressive DVD with extras that are substantial—something rare for a recently made movie.