Miramax Home Entertainment
MSRP: $13.99
RUNNING TIME: 154 minutes

There are movies that are made that are very well made.  Excellently directed, written superbly, beautifully shot, acted the hell out of.  They may star Academy Award-winning actors, A-list movie stars, and/or the newest Brando or Hepburn.  They may be directed by Academy Award-winning directors. They could be based on a book, a play, or simply be a startling original work by a talented screenwriter.  You see such a movie and think, “Man, that was some bit of storytelling.  Bravo.  It was longer than the Nile, but that was definitely worth the time I took to check it out”…then you never see it again.  Welcome to Cold Mountain.

The Flick:

The plot of the flick is pretty simple.  Jude Law plays Inman, a Civil War-era carpenter in rural North Carolina.  Nicole Kidman plays Ada, a transplanted South Carolina belle who plays piano and likes to serve drinks.  They dig each other but they just get around to discovering it before The War of Northern Aggression happens and Inman goes off to fight.  Cut back and forth three years as we see how their relationship formed and how Inman has discovered that war really is hell.  After seeing his buddies get shredded, getting the ground blown out from under him with a couple of tons of gunpowder and getting a bullet hickey, Inman decides that he’s got better things to do back at Cold Mountain, so he deserts and begins an Odysseus-like journey home.

Meanwhile, Ada has had it tough as the girl back home.  Her father has died, she freed her slaves and she has no one to work her farm and no one to turn to for anything.  She pines away for Inman every night, not knowing if he’s alive or dead.  What’s worse, the local Snidely Whiplash, Teague, a chicken-hawk who stayed behind to act as Cold Mountain’s local law enforcer, is lusting after Ada and shooting any yellow-belly deserter he can find.  Enter Ruby, a tomboy straight-talker who arrives to teach Ada some girl power.  She pulls Ada out of her funk and shows her how to work her farm so that as God is their witness, they’ll never be hungry again (lame I know, but it’s late). 

On his journey home, the following happens to Inman (this is a bit long, so stay with me): he gets shot at by Johnny Reb patrols, meets a lecherous reverend who likes a little dark meat (the always great Phillip Seymour Hoffman); leaves said reverend for the town locals to string up; saws a rotten cow into maggot buffet; gets a face of full moon from a local ho at a country brothel; finds out said brothel is a trap for deserters; gets carted off in chains, has a extremely brief fling as the Defiant Ones; gets rescued and nursed back to health by a local hermit chick; comes across Padme, who’s obviously hiding from Vader with one of her Jedi twins; lies in her bed and comforts her, but doesn’t comfort her; wastes a couple of rogue Union soldiers who offer to do the job; and he finally gets home to his Ada, who almost blows him out of his well-worn shoes.  They have a Terminator night together before a showdown with Teague and his cronies, who are gonna get Ada and Ruby for harboring deserters.  Lot of shooting, bad outcome.  If you picked up on the Terminator reference, you get the drift.  

The direction, writing and performances were all spot on.  Law tries his damnedest to shed his pretty boy image and largely succeeds, but he has to hold up much of the movie when it veers from one adventure to the next.  Cut this story down to 2 hours, you got a definite winner.  As it is, you need an intermission.  Kidman usually doesn’t do bad work (although I have yet to see The Human Stain) and she pulls off another fine performance here.  But the real story of this story is Renee Zellweger.  I thought she picked up a consolation Oscar because she didn’t get one for Chicago, but she’s quite good here.  She’s definitely the tentpole of this tentpole flick.     

Earlier I mentioned that Inman was reincarnated as Kim Bauer from 24.  It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that the fiction gods re-used the teabag in Inman’s and Kim’s cups of life (some deep shit, I know).  If you’ve seen the second season of 24, all 24 episodes, you know exactly what I’m talking about.  The Perils of Pauline riff can start to ruin an otherwise well-told story.  You can take it up to a certain point, before you just have to say, “Oh, for the Passion of the Christ!” After 2 ½ hours of Cold Mountain I almost started to feel like I did when I watched the entire season of 24 on tape in a span of 36 hours: punch-drunk.  Still, not an altogether bad flick.  But I swear, by the time Inman almost got eaten by a mountain lion and then held up in liquor store, I was ready to go postal.   

7.0 out of 10

The Look:

Anthony Minghella doesn’t shoot ugly flicks, that’s for sure.  Beautiful countryside, winter and mountain vistas, along with brief but stirring Civil War battles reminiscent of Glory – all in glorious 2.35:1.  Crisp transfer to boot.

8.8 out of 10

The Noise:

You get the bang (literally) for your buck here.  There was a big Civil War battle scene, a lot of shooting and a lot of talking; and I didn’t have to adjust the sound once as both were pretty much perfect.  Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround and DTS 5.1. 

8.5 out of 10

The Goodies:

In the immortal words of Petey Pablo: “I bet you want the goodies, bet you thought about ‘em…”  Well this disc doesn’t disappoint. 

•    Climbing Cold Mountain: a 75-minute no-holds-barred documentary on the complete process of the making of the movie.  Much more in-depth than your usual making-of and set to Bluegrass.  The highlight of the doc is a pretty detailed account of the opening Battle of Petersburg, which was shot in Romania..  It gave me a much greater sense of the history of the Civil War and pride in the contribution and sacrifice the Romanian Army made to free the slaves….

•    20 minutes of deleted scenes.  Not quite as good as it could have been if there were 50 minutes of deleted scenes…

•    The Words and Music of Cold Mountain: A Royce Hall Special:  If you’re a die-hard fan of this movie, the book or both, then this is the feature that you’ll want to see.  A 90-minute presentation of a Royce Hall special that featured scenes from the movie, readings of the book and script by the major stars of the movie and Minghella himself, and some musical numbers from Sting, Allison Krause and a who’s who of Bluegrass and Christian music.  Now if you don’t really know that much about Bluegrass, just know that it’s the hardcore version of Country Music, Gangsta Country if you will, and the musicians here was definitely representin’.  But I gotta tell you, I’m getting a little tired of these Bluegrass artists showing up on stage with their entourage of pigs and chickens and brothers/cousins…

•    A Journey to Cold Mountain: Another 30 minute making-of, covering much of the same territory, but including behind the scenes of the Royce Hall Special.  Uh, next…

•    Sacred Harp History: A mini-doc about the history of Scred Harp, a group of Christian singers featured in the Royce Hall Special. 

•    Storyboard comparisons of three scenes. 

•    Commentary by Anthony Minghella and editor Walter Murch.

•    Sneak Peaks

9.0 out of 10

The Artwork:
Floating heads over a Civil War battle.  Cosmo meets Gods and Generals.  Uhmmmm…..

3.0 out of 10

Overall:  8.1 out of 10