Cold Mountain (2003) Directed By Anthony Minghella. With Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Renée Zellweger.
Based on a book by Charles Frazier and adapted for the screen by Anthony Minghella, Cold Mountain is a broad, ambitious love story set against a backdrop of the American Civil War.
It has a cast that you imagine being assembled at Cannes, as almost every new face we encounter on the journey (148-mins of it) is instantly recognisable, and therein lies a beef. For any period piece brimming with big names, there’s an inherent distraction from the material at each point we’re introduced to a new star. I found myself holding my breath as to whether he or she had the ability to adapt to the landscape of the time with an authentic southern accent. What’s worse is when fears are realised and actors like Ray Winstone, Jude Law and Nicole Kidman allow their accents to slip, resulting in a character-audience detachment that need never have been there. I understand the box office benefits to having star names dotted all over your poster, but in this case a few more indigenous folk wouldn’t have gone amiss.
Casting issues aside, the film looks beautiful. Clearly, this is an ambitious piece and fittingly, the cinematography is epic and sprawling. There’s striking visual metaphors too. Apart from in the opening scenes, we see very little of the actual conflicts, although what we do see is brutal and bloody. Instead of witnessing soldiers dying, we see the crops going to waste on the farms and the unattended fields, amid the absence of farmers to tend to them. It’s symbolic of a country that was tearing itself apart from the inside.
Essentially though, this is personal love story, but within that, it’s also a survival tale and the film stands and falls on buying into that love. I’m pleased to say that I felt it worked. Such is the weight of what’s happening in the background, coupled with the obstacles our couple have to overcome to try to be together, that it’s hard to deny some sort of emotional response. That said, the initial set-up of the relationship – crucial to understanding and believing in the central love – could have been more played upon. Nicole Kidman is a fine actress yet here she lacks warmth. The times she shares the screen with a lively Renée Zellweger, she almost fades into the scenery. Additionally, Natalie Portman, in a brief role, brings humanity and weight to proceedings leaving Kidman, the main star playing very much third fiddle. I’d have to say that although Cold Mountain is long and flawed, the backdrop events help carry it through some odd casting choices to help it become a good, but not great story of love’s efforts to overcome the seemingly insurmountable.