AnimeJune’s Review: **** (out of five)
I never expected to like “Cold Mountain”. I thought it would be a relatively pleasant way to spend 150 minutes, but I wasn’t really looking forward to it with bated breath. I suspected it was going to be a tedious, thick, soul-searching period piece with an oh-so-common once-in-a-lifetime-love plot twist thrown in. Well, dear readers, I stand corrected. There’s just something about this movie that let it stick in my head for longer than I expected, that had me running over it again and again in my mind to find out why, exactly, I enjoyed this film so much.
Quite possibly, it is because this film defied all my expectations. One of the last things I was expecting was a reinterpretation of “The Odyssey”. Jude Law channels Odysseus as Confederate soldier Inman who, after being shot in the neck and receiving a pleading, if belated, letter from his sweetheart Ada, deserts from the front lines to begin a long, arduous trek back to Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Ada (Nicole Kidman), meanwhile, is the embodiment of Penelope as she struggles to hold on to her deceased father’s farm while fending off the advances of her unwanted suitor, the avaricious Teague (Ray Winstone) and his aggressive followers. Her only support is the amicable, if hot-headed, Ruby (Renee Zellweger, in her Oscar-winning role).
There are a great deal of plot holes and elements where belief must be suspended to keep it from being shredded entirely, and the film handles this in two ways. The first method is to acknowledge the unlikely events, and embrace them nonetheless. While the concept that a couple who have known each other for barely a month can be driven to such monumental lengths to reunite is a bit of fairy-tale fluff, the film never hides or avoids the inevitable question of “They barely know each other! How can they do this?” Inman and Ada both berate themselves with this inquiry, but the truth is: they’re alone. They have no one else in the world who cares about them except, maybe, this one person. The hope of having finally found this one person to cling to is what drives these two characters, not necessarily the love they share. The second way the film deals with improbable situations is to give itself an air of mysticism that cleverly disguises plot flaws with mystery. For example, Ada sees a vision of the future when she gazes down her neighbour’s well with a mirror, and Inman is advised upon his course of action by an unusually wise and philosophical blind man. Ironically, this fantastical element lends the story more credibility. True love is more believable in a setting where the unbelievable happens.
Usually, in a production that is based on a novel more than 400 pages long, the movie tends to have a compressed feel as the directors, screenwriters, and actors attempt to cram the living heart of a respected novel into a restricted three-hour time limit. However, the pacing of this film is surprisingly smooth, graceful, and consistent. The only indication that this tale is based on something longer and more extensive is the massive amount of vibrant roles, each pinned underneath a well-known Hollywood face, who are relegated to brilliant cameos as the story is forced to plod on without them. Such short-lived characters are Philip Seymour Hoffman’s lecherous Reverend Veasy, Natalie Portman’s sorrowful widow Sara, and 28 Days Later’s Cillian Murphy’s starved Yankee rebel. The script itself contains pages and pages of lovey-dovey, grandiose speeches of how absence can make the heart grow fonder, but just before Ada and Inman can dig a nice, mushy grave of treacly love cliches together, Ruby’s character storms in and craps all over it with Renee Zellweger’s splendidly deadpan delivery. I’m not entirely certain her performance was worthy of an Oscar, as she’s mainly a comic relief sidekick (and there is no shortage of those in blockbuster films), but it is a refreshing reprieve from the deadly serious adventures of Ada and Inman. In fact, all of the performances are exemplary. Nicole Kidman is either a tad too old for her part, or Jude Law is a smidgen too young for his, but otherwise they pull it off. As I mentioned before, Renee Zellweger’s performance was enjoyable, but not quite exceptional enough to merit an Academy Award, at least in my ignorant opinion.
To quote The Princess Bride, “This is true love. Do you think this happens everyday?” Apparently not, and despite the overexposure to this rare phenomenon in the media, Cold Mountain manages to reintroduce the idea into a modernisation of an ancient story and still let us believe that the concept of love at first sight is delicate, beautiful, unique, and powerful. The few flaws in it are the occasionally touchy-feely scriptwriting and the shaky (acting-wise) introduction. Otherwise, however, Cold Mountain spins a wonderful, fairy-tale quest, out of the fabric of real life.
By the by, I now am, unfortunately, in the grips of a powerful and new Obsession: Jude Law. Because of him, I actually made myself watch "AI: Artificial Intelligence"! Oh, but he IS so good-looking... Now I have to go out and watch "Enemy at the Gates", "The Talented Mr. Ripley" and "Final Cut"....sigh.....