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Inman, a Civil War Confederate soldier, is seriously wounded in battle before heading home to North Carolina to his pre-war beloved, Ada. In his absence, Ada--with the help of a young drifter named Ruby--is desperately trying to hold onto the farm of her deceased missionary father. Inman's long journey home takes him through the crumbling confederacy, as he meets people of all walks of life who want to both aid and hinder his mission.
For more about Cold Mountain and the Cold Mountain Blu-ray release, see Cold Mountain Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on January 23, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 4.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, Renée Zellweger, Eileen Atkins, Brendan Gleeson, Philip Seymour Hoffman
Director: Anthony Minghella
» See full cast & crew
Cold Mountain Blu-ray Review
War is hell. So is getting home afterwards.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, January 23, 2012
In this isolated world of locked doors and pulled shades, it's not unusual for people to not really know who their neighbors are. Imagine my eldest sister's surprise, then, when she discovered that novelist Charles Frazier was one of her neighbors in North Carolina, something she evidently found out quite by accident simply because a Frazier "groupie," eager to track down the Cold Mountain author, was asking everyone she could find in the neighborhood if they knew exactly where Frazier lived. Cold Mountain was Frazier's first novel and it instantly put him on the map of important American voices. Cold Mountain is an actual, real life locale in North Carolina, and Frazier was critically praised for so aptly capturing a North Carolinian ambience in his novel, one which grittily brought to life the horrors of the end of the Civil War and the devastation that was visited on civilian and soldier alike. Anthony Minghella might have seemed like a rather odd choice to helm the film version of Cold Mountain, for Minghella could hardly be described as a director interested in grittiness. Minghella's two best known films prior to Cold Mountain had been the ultra-glossy The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley, films that were redolent in their own way of the intentionally glamorous works of David Lean and Alfred Hitchcock. Could Minghella, an Englishman, really capture the down and dirty world of the late Civil War, let alone convincingly create a decidedly American ambience? The answer, once the film premiered, was a decided "yes," albeit with a couple of caveats. Featuring a trio of old time Hollywood star performances from Jude Law, Nicole Kidman and Oscar winner Renee Zellweger, Cold Mountain is a strangely old fashioned entertainment (if "entertainment" is the right word, considering the film's overabundance of tragedy) wrapped up in a sort of post-modern cynical covering that at least somewhat removes the film from more patently burnished feeling Civil War set films like Raintree County. (It's perhaps interesting to note that the two leads of Cold Mountain aren't American, something that caused an uproar back in the thirties when Vivien Leigh was signed to play Scarlett O'Hara in Gone With the Wind, probably the most iconic Civil War film of all time. Here, decades later, it caused barely a stir.)
Not knowing your neighbors—or at the very least, not knowing your neighbors very well—plays into part of Cold Mountain with regard to heroine Ada (Nicole Kidman). As Minghella did with The English Patient, Cold Mountain plays out with alternating timeframes, at least in its first act, with a dialectic between the horrors of battle as the Civil War winds down and flashbacks showing a more serene, sylvan time. Ada and her father, Reverend Monroe (Donald Sutherland), arrive in Cold Mountain and establish themselves, slowly but surely meeting the area's inhabitants, including Inman (Jude Law). A burgeoning romance between Ada and Inman is soon interrupted by the Civil War. As this story plays out, Minghella attacks the story from the other end, as it were, showing Inman's desperate struggles in battle, struggles which end when he's wounded and sent to a Confederate military "hospital" (using the term hospital is being fairly charitable). There Inman watches comrades die and pines for his old life in Cold Mountain, something exacerbated when a letter from Ada implores him to return to her. That sets the long second act of the film in motion, where Inman encounters one horrible trial after another as he attempts to make his way home (after deserting), while Ada is struggling herself to maintain her large farm after the death of her father.
Much like The English Patient, Cold Mountain is a relentlessly dour film which thrusts a handful of characters into unimaginable difficult circumstances and then pretty much just watches their tribulations play out. Some have compared the Inman character to Job, so utterly beset with evils is the character, but there's one salient difference: Inman has deserted the Army. Does that mean he deserves all of the hideous circumstances which befall him? Almost certainly not, but it also means that in a way he's responsible for all that happens to him, rightly or wrongly. Of course the flip side to this argument is that Inman would have simply encountered another kind of hideous circumstance had he stayed in the war. Law brings a stoic reserve to the role which works very well, though by the time the film has put the character—and the actor—through one unimaginable horror after another, some might be crying "Enough is enough!"
The Ada arc is at least a bit more palatable if only by dint of the fact that we're not thrust into one horrifying scene after another. This plotline is also helped immeasurably by the one spark of energy in an otherwise fairly tamped down film, namely Renee Zellweger as spitfire Ruby Thewes, a country girl who comes to Ada's rescue and helps to her to manage the large farm. Zellweger can be a tough actress to love a lot of the time. She often seems too self involved for her own good, more intent on proving how great she is than in actually delivering a nuanced performance. But here, perhaps under the watchful eye of Minghella, she delivers a knockout portrayal of a firebrand woman who knows how to take control and makes no bones about it. Ruby's entrance into the film actually significantly perks up the middle section and makes some of the Inman story a bit more tolerable simply because we finally have some relief from it.
Cold Mountain is not an especially easy film to sit through, especially as one calamity after another is visited upon Inman, and it never seems like the two separated lovers will be able to reunite. This film has some of the same emotional pull that would bring young female viewers to Titanic in droves several years later. Unrequited, tragic love (or at least just barely requited love before ultimate tragedy strikes) seems to be a surefire way to attract attention, in films or in literarily, and Cold Mountain certainly plays up that aspect to a tee. What sets the film apart, though, is its incredible evocation of a distinct moment in American history. Minghella and his production team manage to recreate backwoods North Carolina with incredible flair, and Cold Mountain also features some superb supporting performances (including a great turn by Philip Seymour Hoffman as a despicable minister) that really help to inform the nooks and crannies of the film. Cold Mountain finally escapes the nonstop trauma with a relatively serene and happy coda, one which finds several key characters finally carving out some little version of happily ever after. It's a happiness fraught with incredible sadness of what's gone before, though, and at best Cold Mountain manages to be bittersweet.
Cold Mountain Blu-ray, Video Quality
Cold Mountain is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Lionsgate-Miramax with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. This is for the most part a solid and substantial high definition upgrade, one which presents the films beautiful locations in appreciably increased detail, but one which perhaps doesn't quite rise to the level of some other recent Lionsgate-Miramax catalog releases like Frida and Shakespeare in Love. Grain is noticeably more apparent in this release (as it is in Minghella's The English Patient, which I'll be reviewing directly after Cold Mountain), and is no doubt part of Minghella's preferred visual style. While it's never overwhelming, it definitely spikes in a number of sequences, quite noticeably in several of the darker moments as well as (perhaps surprisingly) shots that include bright, clear skies. The image offers nicely robust colors, though it must be said that Minghella and DP John Seale deliberately mute some of the palette, especially in the battle sequences, so that they look almost like old daguerreotypes. Fine detail is exceptional in midrange and close- ups (some of the close- ups of Law's deteriorating face are in fact alarmingly well detailed), while far range shots tend to just slight fuzziness at times. Aside from some very minor haloing, there really aren't any artifacts to report here. This isn't quite up to the excellent standards set by the first couple of releases in this ongoing Lionsgate-Miramax wave, and some might wonder if the film might have looked at least a bit better, but overall my sense is fans should be very well pleased with this high definition upgrade.
Cold Mountain Blu-ray, Audio Quality
Cold Mountain is presented with a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that is quite remarkable on several levels. The film alternates between bombastic battle sequences and quieter, country-set moments with Ada (at least for the first part of the film), and the track captures the vast differences in these soundworlds effortlessly. The opening battle sequence with Inman features some devastating explosions that are delivered with some awesome LFE. But what really struck me about this track was actually the quieter, more reflective moments, where the quiet bleating of a sheep or rustling of the wind through trees with faint birdsong really helped to capture the ambience of North Carolina. The film also features a really evocative score that utilizes a lot of folk melodies and instruments, and those sound absolutely fantastic on this track. Dynamic range is exceptional, and surround activity is really pretty persistent throughout the film, even in more reflective dialogue moments. Fidelity is top notch, with no damage or distortion to report.
Cold Mountain Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
Cold Mountain Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
Cold Mountain takes a special kind of emotional fortitude to make it through unscathed, much like the characters in the film themselves. Minghella crafts and exceptionally handsome production here, one which is, yes, gritty, but also refined. The three leads are exceptional, with Zellweger a real standout, and the film features superb cinematography, editing and sound design (including a gorgeous score). But this is a relentlessly depressing film which only is partially ameliorated by a quasi-happy ending. While this Blu-ray is perhaps just incrementally less impressive visually than the other recent Lionsgate-Miramax releases alluded to above, it's really overall a fairly slight difference in quality. With excellent audio and good supplements, this film, despite its depressive qualities, comes Highly recommended.
Cold Mountain: Other Editions
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