“Cold Mountain” wants to be grand. Oh how Minghella wants it to be a grandiose civil war epic, this generation’s “Gone with the Wind”, but sadly, it will never reach those heights, and throughout the running time it never reached those heights because it is such a short-sighted piece of filmmaking, it could never reach the possible limits that Minghella wanted it to. After viewing this, it was plainly obvious this was so utterly manufactured for Oscar, it was nauseating. But “Cold Mountain” is not underwhelming because of that fact, it’s underwhelming simply because it’s so utterly short-sighted in its stories and characters.
All we do is focus on Ada and Inman again and again, and in the process, all the other possibly compelling sub plots are forgotten. It’s sad that I was more compelled to watch the sub-plots than I was in trying to empathize for the under-developed Inman and the whiny obnoxious Ada. Minghella’s film has excellent production qualities, which is a basic given for the director who has a surefire eye for detail with lush rolling hills and beautiful forests that really only come to life thanks to the performances here. Nicole Kidman gives a very good performance as the Southern Belle Ada forced to fend for herself during starvation and murder, and Jude Law gives a very good performance as Inman, the reluctant hero and deserter of his troops who has to eat bugs to stay alive and dodge hunters. But the true power lies in the supporting performances that were sadly never shown as much as I wanted.
Natalie Portman gives a strong appearance as a young mother forced to survive with her baby, Brendan Gleeson is great as an estranged father and traveling musician, and Jack White from The White Stripes gives a surprisingly competent performance as a traveling guitarist who partners with Gleeson. “Cold Mountain” does also sport some great concepts such as the bounty hunters killing deserters, and Inman’s run in with fugitive slaves, all of which make up some interesting journeys. So obsessed are the makers in featuring Law and Kidman only, they forget about all the other talent featured, and all the other story possibilities. This is not a civil war drama, this is a romance with a civil war back drop which is criminally misleading in the end.
Portman’s sub-plot was heart wrenching, Murphy’s subplot was fascinating and tragic, but all we get to do is watch British actors poorly perform southern accents. We’re resorted to three sub-plots that were hardly ever engrossing to sit through and I ultimately cared about what was going on elsewhere. “Cold Mountain” is not only artificial, but emotionless. It seeks to be from the beginning, the be all and end all of epics with a grand setting, and wannabe engrossing characters, but hardly any of it is ever pulled off. We never get to have an intimate connection with the characters here, and everything from the characters to situations were never as great as it was trying to be. It’s a mediocre epic in the end. While Minghella strives to make his film impossibly rich and grandiose, it’s never as good as he wants it to be and he comes off as a David Lean imitator.