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COLD MOUNTAIN (article first published : 2004-03-4)

A sweeping epic of love, war, survival and heartbreak that also sets out to work on an intimate level, Cold Mountain is the eagerly-awaited new film by Anthony (The English Patient) Minghella.

It arrives heaped with praise, having received eight Golden Globe nominations. It now stands to win Oscars for cinematography, editing, original song and the acting of Jude Law and Renee Zellweger.

I could hardly wait to see it.

But after sitting through its two-and-a-half hours, this reviewer was left hugely underwhelmed. I honestly fail to see what the fuss is all about.

Based on a haunting novel by Charles Frazier, the story opens shortly before the American Civil War, when sophisticated Southern belle Ada (Nicole Kidman), having quit Charleston for the quieter rural town of the film title, catches the eye of attractive labourer Inman (Jude Law).

Not long after, and having barely said a few words to each other, the two trade photographs, smiles, mumbles and a quick kiss before parting when Inman joins the Confederate army. He then trudges through brutal, bloody battles and various hardships. And, after deserting the army, he crosses paths with a wide variety of characters, both friend and fiend, as he makes his long way home to Ada, whom he has decided is the love of his life. She, meanwhile, between sobbing nightly over letters she writes to Inman, trades in her piano for seed and, with help from fiesty farm hand Ruby (a delightful Zellweger, almost in Annie Oakley mode), fights to survive, revive her farm and ward off the terrors of a local nasty called Teague (Ray Winstone).

Minghella has drawn solid performances - rather than outstanding from most of his performers, the truly splendid supporting cast including Natalie Portman as a lonely widow, Philip Seymour Hoffman as a lecherous man of the cloth, Giovanni Ribisi as a moonshine-wielding hillbilly, Dame Eileen Atkins as a wide old mountain woman and Donald Sutherland as a clergyman.

Zellweger and Law are particularly good, by far the most deserved of the cast's Academy Award nominees. Kidman, however, seems too constantly pretty-pretty, too neat and tidy as Ada. While everyone else becomes deeply tanned, rugged and earthy, Ada, even after rolling up her sleeves and tackling farm chores with gusto, remains forever pale with peachy cheeks, her only nods to looking dishevelled being a designer smudge here and a carefully selected strand of loose hair there.

And the love story that is so pivotal to the tale is just so poorly developed, so unlikely, it's plain silly - and exacerbated by the fact that Law and Kidman show minimal chemistry. Mighella has served up a handsome, but longwinded film - a drama with some of the clunkiest dialogue since Pearl Harbour and which becomes almost laughable in a pivotal love scene before some long-overdue rumpy-pumpy. Rating? A very generous 6/10. - Billy Suter




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