Cold Mountain review by Mike Long

It all comes down to the story. Whether we are talking about a movie, a book, or a conversation at a party, if the story is good, people will be hooked. There are plenty of books out there which have fascinating and intriguing stories. But, that doesn't mean that they would make good movies. The National Book Award winning novel "Cold Mountain" was lauded with critical praise and became a bestseller, and presumably, many loved the story. However, after seeing the film version of Cold Mountain from Oscar-winning director Anthony Minghella, the mountain wasn't the only thing left cold.

Cold Mountain takes place during the Civil War. Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) has moved from Charleston, South Carolina to the small town of Cold Mountain, North Carolina with her father, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland). Once there, the shy Ada meets the equally shy Inman (Jude Law). The two are clearly attracted to one another, but due to their awkward natures and their social status, they only exchange a few words, and one brief kiss before Inman leaves to fight in the war. Despite their nearly non-existent relationship, Ada vows to wait for Inman. Once in the thick of battle, Inman is wounded and decides to leave the war and return to Cold Mountain. Meanwhile, Ada is dealing with the hardship of being a woman in a time when all of the men have gone away. She is soon joined by the plucky Ruby Thewes (Renee Zellweger), a self-made woman who helps Ada survive. As Ada begins her new life, Inman faces many incredible obstacles on his journey home.

Cold Mountain is a beautifully made and wonderfully acted movie. It's also quite boring and very pretentious. The story in this film is at one time both very simple and quite complicated. At its core, Cold Mountain has too main stories: one is a variation on Homer's "The Odyessey", as Inman attempts to make his way home from the war, and encounters several obstacles and interesting characters, such as Philip Seymour Hoffman's Reverend Veasey; then, we have the story of Ada, a woman with no real skills who is trying to survive on her farm. Each of these stories could have taken up an entire film, and Cold Mountain switches back-and-forth between the two tales, often jumping from the past to the present. And, individually, each of these narratives would have made a simple, easy-to-follow movie. As it stands, Cold Mountain isn't confusing (in the end, the plot is very elementary), but it doesn't necessarily make a lot of since. One must be a hopeless romantic to truly understand why these two people who barely know one another, are struggling to meet again. (My wife, who read the novel and hated it, kept saying, "Why?! How can they be in love?!") My other problem with the film is the lack of true character development. Despite Cold Mountain's 2 1/2 hour running time, we don't get to know much about Ada or Inman, with Ruby being the only fully-developed character.

If one can get past the story problems in Cold Mountain (and that would be quite a hurdle), the movie is beautiful to watch. Director Anthony Minghella may not know anything about making short, concise films, but he certainly knows how to make beautiful movies which take full advantage of the majestic look of the locations. Although set in North Carolina and Virginia, the bulk of Cold Mountain was shot in Romania (being a native of North Carolina, I have issues with this), and the shots of the rolling, green hills are gorgeous. (For the record, some of the film was shot near Charleston, South Carolina, where my wife and I spotted Jude Law strolling down King Street.) For the most part, the acting in the film is quite good, most notably Law as the tortured Inman. And as with Charlize Theron in Monster, I can easily see why Zellweger won the Oscar for her turn as Ruby in Cold Mountain, as this spit-fire of a character is a far-cry from many of the actresses other roles. I have to agree with the numerous comments from other viewers of Cold Mountain that Kidman's Ada simply looks too glamorous in the film. Note her nice hat/coat combo during the film's finale, a time when she is supposedly her most destitute. Cold Mountain is a prime example of what I like to call a "Decepticon" -- beautiful on the outside, but empty inside.

Cold Mountain travels cross-country onto DVD courtesy of Miramax Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The transfer is top-notch -- one look at any of the landscape shots will immediately underscore this fact as the screen has an incredible amount of depth. The image is very sharp and clear, being mostly free from any grain and showing no defects from the source material. The colors look very good, although Minghella has clearly chosen diffused tones for many scenes, and the picture is never overly dark or bright. The disc's audio portion is impressive as well, and the very first scene, which includes a very loud explosion, lets the viewer know that they are in for a fine aural experience. Both the Dolby Digital 5.1 track and the DTS 5.1 track sound fine, although the DTS track is slightly clearer. Both provide clear dialogue and the surround and subwoofer effects are exemplary. The tracks certainly do justice to the film's haunting score.

This 2-disc DVD set contains a wealth of extra features. Disc 1 features only the film and an audio commentary from writer/director Anthony Minghella and editor Walter Murch. This duo has worked together several times in the past and feel quite comfortable together. They speak at length throughout the film. They talk about the story and characters, but spend most of the time talking about the sheer logistics of making the film and putting it together. The talk is somewhat slow and dry at times, but overall, it's quite informative. The remainder of the extras can be found on Disc 2, which is loaded. We start with a documentary entitled "Climbing Cold Mountain". This 74-minute piece is essentially a very, very in-depth "making-of" featurette, as it explores nearly every facet of the film's production, starting with the novel and going all the way through to the film's premiere. In the process, we learn about location scouting, casting, the challenges of shooting the film in Romania, life in Romania, publicity, music, and test screenings. Minghella appears often in the piece, giving comments about the process. There are also comments from the main cast. Next up is "The Words and Music of Cold Mountain - Royce Hall Special". This 93-minute production (which is letterboxed at 1.85:1 and is 16 x 9) was apparently made for TV and presents a mixture of live reading from the "Cold Mountain" novel (from the film's stars) intermingled with performances of song's from the film's soundtrack. If you loved the film, then you may love this special, but for me, it felt as if the producers were trying to recreate the vibe of Oh Brother Where Art Thou. "A Journey to Cold Mountain" (30 minutes) is a made-for-TV "making of" which streamlines some of the material from the documentary and gives away many of the surprising cameos in the film. The DVD contains 10 deleted scenes, which comprise 21 minutes of footage, and can be viewed with a "Play All" feature. "Sacred Harp History" (4 minutes) enables the musicians involved in the film the chance to discuss the unique history of the songs used in the movie. Finally, we have Storyboard Comparisons for three scenes.

5 out of 10 Jackasses

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