War for Art’s Sake
Anthony Minghella, USA, 2003
Anthony Minghella's adaptation of Charles Frazier's popular Civil
War-era novel Cold Mountain has an appropriately haunted, blue-tone
look (the peaks of Romania standing in for Appalachia's Blue Ridge
Mountains), appealing leads (Jude Law and Nicole Kidman), and a
writer-director with a proven literary-adaptation track record (the
Oscar-lauded The English Patient). What it lacks is character
dimensions beyond broadly sketched romantic stereotypes, and a commitment
to wholly revealing the ugly business of life during wartime.
Cold Mountain tells the story of Inman (Law), a Confederate
solider from North Carolina who, having survived a bullet to the neck in
battle, escapes from the hospital tending to him and makes his way home to
his lady love, Ada (Kidman). It doesn't take a degree in Literature to
recognize that Homer's Odyssey is the most obvious model for this
structure, but unfortunately Inman has no crew on his journey, and his
adventures are far less moving or engaging than those experienced by
Odysseus. As with the Odyssey, we learn of the various travails
Inman's porcelain-fine Southern Belle must endure while he's away at war.
Ada's preacher father (Donald Sutherland, essentially turning in a cameo)
passes away while Inman's off fighting the Yankees, and her house falls
into disrepair. To make matters worse, a Home Guard militia, whose sole
job appears to consist of terrorizing and killing anyone the group
suspects of harboring deserters, stands in for the collective role of
Penelope's suitors. The murderous squad's leader Teague (Ray Winstone)
continually reminds the fetching Ada that her man isn't ever coming back,
but she refuses to entertain his obvious advances. Of course, if Inman
does show up, he'll be shot for desertion. This poignant fact not lost on
Ada, who finds an unlikely ally in the rootless Ruby Thewes (Renée
Zellweger, injecting much-needed energy into the somber proceedings). Ruby
works on her farm for food and shelter -- and, naturally, teaches the
demure Ada a lesson in self-reliance in the face of adversity.
Meanwhile, Inman's odyssey back home is briefly enlivened by the
appearance of the randy Reverend Veasey (the ever-reliable Philip Seymour
Hoffman), who cheats on his spouse, suffers from bowel problems, and has
no compunction about stealing whatever items he comes across. Regrettably,
Veasey doesn't stick around long enough to pump any real life into the
stoic-to-a-fault Inman, who emerges as Cold Mountain's biggest
obstacle. Impossibly noble, preposterously faithful to a woman he hardly
knows and has kissed only once, Inman -- as played by Law, a smoldering
mannequin with a perpetually furrowed brow -- shoulders the same tired
baggage that loads down The Last Samurai's
Captain Algren: He's done terrible things during the war (like killing
people who were trying to kill him -- how unique!) and, scarred by the
experience, wants nothing more than to return to his beloved Ada.
Crucially, he wants to put the evil that war brings behind him.
An admirable goal, sure, but what a dull set of characteristics to
saddle a main character with! Odysseus was a braggart and a poor winner
who couldn't keep his big mouth shut and got punished by the gods for it.
Leopold Bloom, James Joyce's famous cuckold from Ulysses, was a
borderline pervert whose wife cheated on him primarily because he was more
voyeur than competent lover. Inman, by contrast, is more a romantic ideal
of the reluctant warrior than flesh-and-blood, humanly flawed character.
And that's just not very engaging. Likewise, Ada is more stock tragic
Southern heroine than hardened war widow. At least Scarlett O'Hara could
be a conniving and selfish bitch when push came to shove. Inman and Ada
are scrubbed clean of all vice, resistant to all temptations, boldly
overcoming adversity while awaiting the inevitable embrace that will
reward them for their perseverance during the terrible conflict. What they
most definitely are not is real. Despite committed performances
from the two leads (whose pristinely beautiful and iconic personas, one
could argue, bear at least as much fault as Minghella's script), it's
simply impossible to form an emotional connection with either character.
This icy love story is impediment enough, but Cold Mountain
similarly shies away from depicting the ugliness of warfare with any
emotional heft. During the opening battlefield sequence, bombs explode,
mud and bodies fly, but there's no visceral link to the messiness of war.
The blood-drenched characters have a painterly, rather than mortally
wounded, quality about them. As with the rest of the film, the overall
effect is more hyper-romantic than grimly realistic, more Winslow Homer
than Matthew Brady. This subtracts from any powerful sense that real lives
are at stake; the film is refined to the point that even the dirt under a
character's fingernails feels artificial, and precisely applied. John
Seale, who won an Oscar for The English Patient, filmed Cold
Mountain with an eye for balance and overall composition that is
certainly laudable; no herky jerky, Private Ryan-style camerawork
here. As something you might want to take a snapshot of and admire, it's
certainly gorgeous. It's just not alive. The "cold" in the title proves
all too apt.
Cold Mountain, then, is a romantic fable of uncommon fidelity,
set against the backdrop of the bloodiest war this country's ever seen.
It's easy on the eyes and cardboard stiff. Too bad Minghella forgot to add
design copyright © 2001-2011 Shaking Through.net. All original artwork,
photography and text used on this site is the sole copyright of the respective creator(s)/author(s). Reprinting, reposting, or citing any of the original
content appearing on this site without the written consent of Shaking
Through.net is strictly forbidden.