Cold Mountain (6/10)

Copyright © 2004 by Tony Medley

Talk about your flimsy premise. Inman (Jude Law) kisses Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman) once in a small North Carolina village in the Blue Ridge Mountains called Cold Mountain, and goes away to fight the Civil War. The rest of this 2-1/2 hour movie is each of them mooning over each other, Ada's struggle for survival, and Inman's adventures as he deserts and attempts to get back to her, a woman he barely knows.

We are supposed to believe that two adults whose only conversation consists of Ada asking Inman if he wants some tea can feel so devoted to one another that they will spend the next three years thinking of nothing else but the other, that each will be physically and emotionally committed as if they had been married for years. Ada doesn’t receive as much as one letter from Inman during the entire time, but still waits for him, stealing a line from Somewhere in Time, the 1980 Christopher Reeve-Jane Seymour time warp soap opera in which Seymour says “Come back to me,” as Reeve is being time-warped away from her back to the present. That’s what Ada says to Inman, whose personality can be best described as catatonic. Inman, for his part, does receive a few letters from Ada and apparently they inspire him to walk hundreds of miles full of enemies to get back to her.

Balance the emotions generated by Ada and Inman’s ephemeral relationship with those of a woman whose entire family is brutally executed before her eyes and who finishes the picture with apparently no emotional baggage as a result of losing her husband and sons, and you’ll see how this film trivializes love and commitment, elevating fleeting infatuation based on physical attraction above real love based on emotional and intellectual attachment.

Even so, the film is better than it sounds, mainly because of Renée Zellweger (Ruby Thewes), who comes to help Ada, who is incapable and reduced to surviving on the charity of her neighbors after her father dies. Being Hollywood, Ada is always perfectly coifed, even as she begs and starves, so we never can forget that this is Oscar-winning beauty Nicole Kidman we’re watching, not some North Carolina hillbilly who was, well, begging and starving. At least Ruby looks like a real person.

In addition to Zellweger, who lights up the screen, the movie is kept interesting by the bad guy, Teague (Ray Winstone), who stays behind in Cold Mountain and finds and brutally and mercilessly kills deserters, all the while lusting after Ada. He and his gang are hateful but there’s no one to challenge them.

The film does touch on the psychological brutality of the Civil War, probably the most vicious war ever fought. There were more American casualties in the Civil War than in all other wars fought by the United States combined. But Cold Mountain is a cartoon when compared with the picture of life in the South during the Civil War that Gone With The Wind (1939) presented.

In addition to the overly romantic story line, there are scenes that strain your credulity.  Like when Ada’s father, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), leads his congregation in song and they sound better than the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. There’s not a flat voice in the crowd and the harmony is perfection.

Oh, well, nothing’s perfect. This is far too long, but the vignettes are interesting.  Despite the juvenile plot it held my interest.

January 9, 2004

The End