Film Review: Cold Mountain (2003)

“This war, this awful war, will have changed us both beyond all reckoning”

You gotta love Hollywood – who else to lead a film about the American Civil War than a Brit and an Australian directed by another Brit. But such is Cold Mountain – Jude Law and Nicole Kidman starring for director Anthony Minghella – a surprisingly enjoyable watch for someone who doesn’t really like war films nor has that much interest in this period of US history. It tells the story of a wounded deserter (Law) from the Confederate army close to the end of the war, who is on his long-winded way to return to the love of his life (Kidman).

The road-trip element of the film allows for some beautiful episodes to emerge as Law’s Inman treks across the country – Eileen Atkins’ gruff goatwoman with her healing compassion, Natalie Portman’s distraught young widowed mother, Cillian Murphy’s conflicted Yankee soldier, Philip Seymour Hoffman’s perverted man of God, Giovanni Ribisi’s opportunistic hustler. Through them we see how the conflict is reshaping the nation and the lengths to which people are forced to go in order to get by in war-torn society, not least Inman himself. 

And set against his journey is the experience of the woman he left behind – Kidman’s Ada Monroe, a minister’s daughter. Though barely courting with Inman, her heart was thoroughly taken but her resolve thoroughly tested when her father dies leaving her alone on a big farm. She soon gets the support of (Academy Award-winning) Renée Zellweger’s high capable Ruby Thewes and she needs it as the vicious Home Guard chief Captain Teague (a marvelously malevolent Ray Winstone) is determined to seize the land and Ada too.

T Bone Burnett’s soundtrack, complemented by Gabriel Yared’s score, is another strong component to the film. Jack White, who also has a role in the film, provides 5 songs, Alison Krauss sings 2 more, and the whole Appalachian-themed collection has a hugely atmospheric feel. Brendan Gleeson, as Ruby’s father, also adds some beautiful work on the fiddle, the folk-tinged melancholy entirely suitable for the epic sweep of the film and the beautiful set of performances that it houses. 

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