'GWTW' for the 21st Century
If you enjoyed The English Patient, then rush to see Cold Mountain. If you were lukewarm about that 1996 Oscar winner, hurry anyway because Cold Mountain is a better movie. Once again, Anthony Minghella turns a tale of war and romance -- Charles Frazier's Civil War novel -- into a poetic and bracing film. And this time the story really coheres, with the sentiments and the action working on the same intense level. The perennial theme of love enduring amidst the ravages of war is beautifully articulated, and a new generation will learn about a watershed in American history.
The simplicity of the plotline is a great virtue. Jude Law portrays an injured Confederate solider named Inman trekking home to Ada Monroe, the woman he loves in North Carolina hill country. Ada is played by Nicole Kidman and that's also a big plus. Inman encounters numerous characters and harrowing situations on his journey back to Cold Mountain, and Ada, the pampered daughter of a preacher, learns to work the land with the help a frontier woman brought to life by Renee Zellweger. A summary can't do justice to a film filled with such powerful incidents and history. Beginning with the shockingly brutal battle of Petersburg, Inman and Ada's brief, halting courtship before the war, and extending to the Home Guard who, among other things, capture deserters and exploit womenfolk left behind.
Law and Kidman are spectacular. This is a case in which star power enhances the believability of a situation. If they weren't so fetching, the romance would seem more mundane. Law gives Inman a quiet bravery and a gloomy tenacity. Kidman is radiant as usual. Who cares if she looks like she just stepped out of the pages of "Vogue"? The fact they aren't American is a nice conversation piece but isn't essential to an appreciation of the movie. It may be slightly ironic that a British director, British male lead, and an Australian lead actress are telling a tale at the heart of the burgeoning United States. Their success is a tribute to their talents, to Frazier's story, and to the universality of his subject matter.
That the movie was filmed in Romania and not America does detract however. The countryside is beautiful but it's clearly not the south. It becomes most glaring at the end when Ada looks like Heidi posed against a backdrop that has more in common with Switzerland than North Carolina.
Cold Mountain reminds us that love between a man and a woman is one of the few instincts more powerful than man's propensity to kill; and that it can also be the cause of much killing. The epic romance ends on a note of bucolic tranquility, with a blended family of survivors sharing a meal outdoors with hope for life after the war. Scars from the Civil War are still healing and viewers won't ever wonder why again. They will also appreciate how many of the wounds were healed by tough southern women forced to endure without their men. In that sense at least, it's Gone with the Wind for the new millennium.
(Released by Miramax and rated "R' for violence and sexuality.)