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With Cold Mountain Anthony Minghella once again pulls out the broom for another sweeping epic of romance and danger. This time, though, he falls slightly below the high mark he set for himself with The English Patient and The Talented Mr. Ripley.

Fell In Love With A Girl

The screen lights up when Zellweger shows up to help Kidman
The screen lights up when Zellweger shows up to help Kidman
2-Disc DVD makes Cold Mountain worth another look
2-Disc DVD makes Cold Mountain worth another look

Inman (Jude Law, The Talented Mr. Ripley) is a quiet man, an honest man, and a hard worker. For him, it’s love at first sight when the reverend’s daughter, Ada (Nicole Kidman, Moulin Rouge), comes to the small North Carolina town of Cold Mountain.

Before the two can get comfortable in each other’s presence, the potential for a full-blown relationship is cut short by the eruption of the Civil War. Separated, Inman and Ada survive the horrors of war either in the trenches or on the home front, terrorized either by Yankee soldiers or vigilantes prosecuting those who shelter Confederate deserters.

Armed with a book and a photo of Ada, Inman is carried away in the winds of war. His story becomes a series of vignettes as he is forced into one compromising situation after another, testing his loyalty both to his country and to Ada.

Back in Cold Mountain, Ada faces life on her own and struggles to find her own identity following her father’s death. As it turns out, life at home can be just as brutal and heartbreaking as life on the front lines of combat.

Ruby Tuesday

Cold Mountain completes what might loosely be considered Minghella’s Novel Trilogy, three films based on three disparate novels by three different authors. With The English Patient, Minghella’s adaptation of Michael Ondaatje’s novel walked off with a pack of Oscars and he followed that artistic triumph with his jazzy adaptation of Patricia Highsmith’s The Talented Mr. Ripley.

In the case of Cold Mountain, his source material is the novel by Charles Frazier. Like the other two adaptations, this one is multi-layered with several different storylines and themes, but this time the characters are less involving and there’s less passion in them thar hills. Having traded in the mystical and sexy settings of Egypt and Italy for North Carolina (via Romania), Minghella has less to work with in terms of the artistic flourishes that made his other two adaptations so successful.

The screen – and proceedings – light up quite a bit when Ruby Thewes (Renée Zellweger, Chicago) enters the picture to help Ada on the farm. Ada was raised more as a companion for her father (Donald Sutherland, The Italian Job) than as a housekeeper and her cooking skills are virtually nonexistent. Ruby not only introduces Ada to assorted culinary concepts, she also shows her how to handle wildlife, like that obnoxious rooster, and also how to tote a rifle.

True to form, Law and Kidman deliver fine performances, but Zellweger’s rambunctious Ruby steals the show, outshining Kidman’s demure Ada. Also making a strong impression is Natalie Portman, whose turn as Sara, a widowed mother of an infant, proves she can act when she’s not working in the emotionally retarded world of Star Wars.

Georgia On My Mind

As with his other two adaptations, music plays a big role in Minghella’s Cold Mountain. This time 1930s classics and jazz are replaced by hillbilly twang and country tunes. Lending both his voice and newfound acting ability is Jack White of the rock duo The White Stripes. While his singing is far better than his acting, his character is quirky enough to make a believable love interest for the equally quirky Ruby.

Theirs is a relationship of smiles and knowing glances, one that teases and offers a sense of hope in the midst of dark times. As a small side story, their romantic airs offer freshness in contrast to the overbearing and somewhat forced romance between Inman and Ada.

In between those romantic entanglements of Inman and Ada, Cold Mountain finds stronger material to mine in the cold, snowy, dark countryside. Philip Seymour Hoffman, another alum from Minghella’s Ripley, brings a sympathetic edge to the sinful Reverend Veasey, who is more inclined to carnal satisfaction than prayer. Meanwhile, Law manages to flesh out what could otherwise have been a one-note character in Inman, who struggles through his own fleshly temptations, traps, and chain gangs during his quest to return to Cold Mountain and Ada. The main problem in classifying Cold Mountain as an epic romance is the lack of investment in the relationship between Inman and Ada. They write each other constantly, but the war-torn postal system manages to deliver only a few of their missives; the rest of their relationship is based on merely a few shared words prior to the war.

Whether they’re star-crossed lovers, soul mates, or simply two strangers who think they may have found that special somebody in the midst of difficult times, there simply isn’t enough there to make it matter. Their romance plays out more as a big, lusty bookend to two hours of otherwise unrelated, but far more engaging, movie.