Cold Mountain

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      A warrior tries to return home to the woman he loves after taking part in a long siege of an enemy stronghold.  His companions are all captured or killed.  He is tempted to turn aside from his travels by sirens, and monsters bar his path.  The warrior is away from home for many years, while the woman he loves attempts to run the homestead not knowing if he is dead or alive, fending off suitors. I am describing the plot of The Odyssey but, as you may have heard, I am also describing the plot of the new film, Cold MountainThe Odyssey has a timeless plot that is often copied, most recently in O Brother, Where Art Thou?  In Cold Mountain, a Confederate soldier (Jude Law), who is tired of war, deserts the army and tries to return home to the woman he loves (Nicole Kidman).  Kidman is a city girl who has been left alone to run a farm after her father (Donald Sutherland) dies.  Meanwhile, with most of the men away, a no-good nasty man (Ray Winstone) is the only government. Kidman is aided in running the farm by a backwoods down-home gal (Renee Zellwegger).  Meanwhile, Law is trying to get home but is constantly waylaid by well-known actors (Philip Seymour Hoffman, Jena Malone, Natalie Portman, Giovanni Ribisi, Eileen Atkins, etc.) who wanted to do small parts in an Anthony Minghella movie.

    This is a very pretty film.  The director, Minghella, and his cinematographer, John Seale also did The English Patient (Oscars for Best Film and Best Cinematography) and The Talented Mr. Ripley together. And Minghella does a very good job of telling the story of Cold Mountain where the hero and heroine are separated for most of the film. Jude Law and Nicole Kidman are both very good. My only beef is that while Law, appropriately, looks like shit through the whole movie, Kidman looks too clean and well dressed.  She is supposed to be a city girl who looks out of place on a farm so it's fine at the beginning that she is above it all, wearing her designer 19th century clothes.  But after she has been through several years of hardship, running the farm almost singlehandedly, she should be a little dirtier and her clothes shouldn't look like they just came back from the cleaners.  That aside, she and Law make a cute couple and I liked them together. I wasn't so happy with Zellwegger.  She blows into the movie about one third of the way through and proceeds to chew the scenery with relish.  I haven't seen such a case of bad overacting in quite a while.  Her presence is jarring and takes away from what is otherwise a good movie.  Cold Mountain is rife with vignettes by good actors.  Sutherland is nice as Kidman's preacher father.  Kathy Baker (Picket Fences, Boston Public) does her usual helpful but disapproving woman role as Kidman's neighbor.  Portman (The Professional, Star Wars), as a lonely young mother and Atkins (Gosford Park) as an old goat herder stand out among the cameos. Hoffman, who is always entertaining, is a little over the top here as a disgraced minister.

    Cold Mountain is meant to be in North Carolina but most of the cast (Kidman, Law, Sutherland, Brendan Gleeson (playing Zellwegger's father), Winstone, and Atkins) hail from various parts of the British Commonwealth so the accents are all over the place.  The story itself is a bit fanciful.  By the end of the Civil War, Confederate soldiers, who joined up the first day of the war and survived, were mostly back at their farms having served their time in the army and been discharged.  So Law wouldn't have had to desert and probably wouldn't have been pursued if he had. Anyway, that's a small point.  Cold Mountain isn't going to be on my Oscar list but it's a pretty good movie and worth seeing on the big screen.