Nominated for 8 Golden Globes, Cold Mountain is almost assured a Best Picture spot at the Oscars, and for good reason. The Civil War movie, which stars Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renee Zellweger, is easily one of the best movies of 2003.
Law stars as Inman, a Confederate soldier in America's bloodiest war, who survives a brutal attack from the North but in the process is injured. This only makes his longing to return home grow, as he sees little true meaning in the fight and wants nothing else than to reunite with the love of his life, Ada (Kidman). Meanwhile, Ada, back in Cold Mountain, North Carolina, has to endure both the hardships of being a woman trying to maintain a farm by herself and the fact that she may never see the man alive again.
Though I have yet to see every Oscar candidate for this year, Cold Mountain will most assuredly be one of 2003's most depressing films. Not only does it feature separated lovers, grisly death throughout, and the killing of about 2 dozen different species of animals, it has a nasty gang of traitor-hunting murderers that will go to any length - including torture - to find what they are looking for. Of course, in a season where depression and tragedy usually leads to more awards, this isn't a bad thing, at least for those that are in store for such conditions.
Offsetting the tragic accounts of the movie, Zellweger plays a rambunctious and rebellious woman with a bullet-fast mouth and "aw-shucks" accent. Almost all comic relief is shoved into this single character, and at times this movie is entertaining, sometimes annoying. Zellweger is funny and believable, but at times seems a little out of place. Some of the more dramatic moments are nearly ruined by her one-line comments. For instance, in a scene where Law and Kidman are trying to skirt around the difficult issue of professing their love to one another, she comes in and starts cracking jokes. Funny, yes, but it takes away some of the power of what would otherwise be a dramatic scene.
Of course, the real stars of the show are those given top billing, Law and Kidman. Both are extraordinary and have a good chance of getting Oscar nods (Kidman won last year and Law was nominated a few years back for The Talented Mr. Ripley, which Anthony Minghella also directed). A Brit and Australian respectively, both are about as realistic as you can get for a Civil War piece; Law is especially in control. Sometimes I think that the best performances come from actors who are forced to speak little, and Law fits into that category easily. Much of the time his character is by himself, and the pain and suffering that he is enduring has to be shown through the eyes, not through the mouth. As for Kidman, she graces the screen like usual, showing a full range of emotions and dialogue that cannot easily be topped. Actually, looking at the Golden Globe nominations, she has a good chance of winning again, while Law, who is the more commanding of the two actors, may fall victim to Sean Penn's brilliant performance in Mystic River.
Simply put, Cold Mountain is an extraordinary film. It is powerful and moving, though it achieves this almost entirely through tragedy. Minghella's gritty portrayal of battle and what that does to a person is the most livid aspect of the film, but the scenery and film work is nice, too. Of course, the acting is top notch (still, perhaps, being topped only by Mystic River).
The movie does slow down a little too much about two-thirds through the movie, at a time when Law is getting into even more trouble and Zellweger has reunited with her father. A few minutes could have been edited out here and there to speed things up; the movie feels a bit long.
Cold Mountain is anything but cold, as it has all of the makings of an Oscar-worthy film. I said that about The Lord of the Rings, too - it's going to be a tight award season.
Review by Erik Samdahl unless otherwise indicated.
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