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COLD MOUNTAIN   Print  E-mail 
Written by Graham Reed  
Wednesday, 08 September 2004

Cold by name, cold by nature. Wheres the Bloody orcs?



Must be that time of year again. There's a man on a quest through hostile terrain, trying to save his home, chased by unfriendly armed gangs of pursuers all intent on bringing him down. Big, epic, bloody battles. And a rotund comedic sidekick.All that's missing is the orcs.


Yep, that's right, "where's the bloody orcs?" I hear you cry. 


Must be coz this ain't Lord of the Rings . Nope -  This is a movie originally plonked in the marketplace in Oscar season (ie last week of December) designed to bring in the booty for Miramax. Last year, Gangs of New York did , erm...nothing, despite 10 nominations, and this year, Its someone else's turn. Antony Minghella (English Patient) to be precise. Bringing up a 2 hr epic that can't really decide what it is.


Set in the American Civil War, it's all about one man who deserts after being left for dead for the 12th time on the battlefield, to return home to the one he loves.  With armed gangs of police searching out deserters, empowered to kill on sight, and only the dream of love.


Well, it sure is pretty if nothing else. Sumptious, golden mountainsides, green lush grass and fields abound.  It's almost an advertisement for the Virginia tourist board ; except that most of it is shot in Romania. And that's before you start casting Nicole Kidman  - whilst looking oddly frumpish - and  the almost unrecognisable (ie not a hottie) Renee Zwelleger. Then add perennial pretty boy Jude Law and a cast of supporting players who are nothing short of stars in their own right ; Natalie Portman, Ray Winstone, Philip Seymour Hoffman - who is pretty much the acting highlight of the film as a disgraced preacher , and even that bloke out of the White Stripes being surprisingly good.  Looks like a goody. 


But it sounds awful. The worst collection of fake accents in the history of cinema fall out of people's mouths like real clunkers ; the cast sound like a bunch of rednecks called "Cleetus"  on a hunt for KKK membership ; and that's just the girls . If it got any worse, they'd start shouting "yeehaw" between every sentence and firing off six shooters, cowboys style. Nominated for 7 Oscars, it won 1 for Renee Zwelleger's risible and ludicrous take as Ruby, Horsekeeper to Ada Munroe (Nicole Kidman), in a role which should have taken only one statue home - a Golden Raspberry, not an Oscar. With accents as ludicrous over the top as hers, it's not astounding that it ends up bordering on parody.


2 1/2 hours later, and not much has happened. It's Bookended with scenes that are breathtakingly violent and brutal ; starting with a Civil War attack that boasts some astounding pyrotechnics, occasional flashes of brilliance and brutal unrelemitting violence showing the pointlessness of the sacrifice of war. The final and brutal confrontation between the lawless and corrupt deserter-hunting police gang led by Teague (an unrecognisable Ray Winstone) and Inman (Jude Law)  has been matched only by the finale of Open Range for effectiveness . Inbetween we see a morality play in which all sides are seen as flawed, human, frail, and all eager to turn the situations to their own advantage. One example can be seen in Teague and his band of leeches who relish cruelty, violence and deliberate sadism using the circumstances of the time to turn himself into the local manor, trying to reclaim the inheritance he feels is rightly his which his grandfather lost - as the lord of all the land in Cold Mountain - and will stop at nothing to fulfil his covetness.


A couple of people killed, some banjo playing, a bloody big battle at the beginning, some nudity, Nicole Kidman's furry muff, shapely ass and a bit of nipple for 48 frames ....a bit of a fuss over nothing really - and a lot of snow.  And Jude Law has walked an awful long way. Mix in the social injustice, hidden agenda's and petty corruption. But this movie has a mountain for a heart - impentratable and cold, and thats exactly how you feel at the end of the film - uncaring as to characters, which is the sure sign of a film with the passion overbaked out of it.


Whilst Cold Mountain certainly improves on second viewing, it feels bloated and overlong, and that's nothing that a good editor couldn't fix. There's subplots that are meaningless and inconsequential that could easily be dropped, and in doing so help make the movie seem less like the impentratable bore that it occasionally is when it overstays it's welcome.  It's a film that comes so close to fulfilling its ambitions but is undone by a lack of perspective as to what would be better off on the cutting room floor. 


And by no means is the 15 rating undeserved - nudity, group sex, brutal cold war sequences and amoral violence certainly mean it's justified, and it running time would simply be unsuited to an audience more concerned with the likes of Torque and 2 Fast 2 Furious.


But at least its pretty, but that makes for a better painting than a film. Yes, you may get a commentary, and a 2nd disc with about four hours of material ;  A comprehensive hour and a quarter long making of documentary, 11 deleted scenes (that total about half an hour), another 29 minute making of and then a 90 minute concert. It's a case of never mind the quality, feel the width with this case of overkill - How many times exactly are you going to watch the promotional concert? If Ever?


Lacking any real emotional impact, what we're left with is a diabolical case of terrible accents, and a film knowingly full of its own importance, to its detriment. Portentous, overlong, and overbaked, but very very pretty, Cold Mountain is an mostly emotionless journey. Whilst it has a lot technically to commend it - unobtrusive digital FX and cinematography the likes of which would look great as a framed 8" x 10" on your wall especially. Like many films, it mistakes length and self-importance for gravitas and importance.Nonetheless, its a damn sight better than other films Minghella has done. But when the end comes, you can't help but feel alienated from the film that feels like it's gone one one act too many, and that it comes across like a calculated and cynical move to win oscars and credibility.


Cold mountain by name, cold by heart. 


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