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COLD MOUNTAIN

BY PETER KEOUGH

Instead of burning Atlanta, Anthony Minghella blows up the Confederate line at Petersburg in this sluggish adaptation of Charles Frazier’s commendable 1997 bestseller Cold Mountain. The spectacle of the vast explosion and the resultant Battle of the Crater erupts in a sequence rivaling the chaotic horror of the opening of Saving Private Ryan.

It’s a hole the film quickly climbs out of, focusing instead on Nicole Kidman’s portrayal of Southern belle Ada Monroe, who’s stranded, Scarlett O’Hara–like, on her desperate homestead near the title North Carolina peak during the lean last years of the Civil War. Her beau, Inman (Jude Law), torturously makes his way homeward from a Confederate hospital, along the way dodging militia men in search of deserters. His odyssey is exactly that — Frazier patterned his novel with some skill on the Homeric original — and though he looks reasonably haggard and hard-eyed as he prevails over 1860s versions of Circe, Calypso, and Polyphemus, Ada, as his Penelope, just keeps looking better and better as the provisions run out and the winter settles in. Where does she find lip gloss, a make-up artist, and a hair stylist in the midst of the Blue Ridge Mountains in 1864 (actually, the Carpathians in Romania)? It’s the most preposterous glamorization of suffering since Angelina Jolie’s fashion show in Somalia in Beyond Borders. Maybe Ada owes her fresh appearance to the labors of Ruby (Renée Zellweger, who just needs the corncob pipe to make the transformation to Mammy Yokum complete), the hardscrabble drifter who helps her put the farm together while the menfolk are away.

Although not as precious as Minghella’s The English Patient, Cold Mountain marks a big decline in his artistry since The Talented Mr. Ripley. No doubt he’ll be encouraged in such excesses by the film’s eight Golden Globe nominations. They confirm one’s worst suspicions, both of the Foreign Press Association and of Miramax head Harvey Weinstein as he bludgeons yet another load of pretentious crap into a pile of Oscars. (155 minutes)


Issue Date: December 26, 2003 - January 1, 2004
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