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May Movie Challenge

May 25: Cold Mountain | A Period Piece

Scott Tennant May 25, 2017
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By Scott Tennant | @Breakdown_Scott

In the category of A Period Piece, Scott chose Cold Mountain (2003), written and directed by Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Charles Frazier, and starring Jude Law, Nicole Kidman, and Renee Zellweger.

 

What is the legacy of a movie like Cold Mountain?  The sweeping Civil War epic had Academy Award aspirations, but fell flat, even missing out on a Best Picture nomination totally. It was moderately well received, but an almost three hour civil war romance/epic probably doesn’t prove accessible to mass audiences in streaming/TV viewing. It seems destined to fall to the wayside, in a pile with other Oscar-near-misses like Lincoln or Warhorse. Critically acclaimed, but largely missed awards season, and now who even thinks about them?

​Well, I think people should check out Cold Mountain, because this is one of the better movies I have seen all year. It’s daunting length and scope make for the type of epic film that we don’t see as much these days. It’s $80 million dollar budget went towards a massive and talented ensemble, stellar production values, and build an overall satisfying package. Cold Mountain tells the stories of W.P. Inman and Ada Monroe, played by Jude Law and Nicole Kidman respectively. Inman heads off to war, while Ada stays home. Tragedy strikes them both; after a battle that leaves Inman gravely wounded, he receives a letter from Ada pleading him to come home to her and stop fighting. Meanwhile, Ada’s father has passed away, leaving her to try to tend to the property he owned. Thus begins Inman’s journey home to Cold Mountain, to Ada’s arms and away from the war. Meanwhile, Ada is doing her best to tend the property and survive the winter, but she is not trained in how to do most of these things. Ada knows how to cook, play piano, and generally behave like a lady. Lucky for her, Ruby Thewes (excellently played , a hard-nosed young woman who needs a place to live stumbles her way, and together they get the farm up and running and generally survive.

There is a huge cast of characters here, especially along Inman’s journey home. In a tale much like Homer’s Odyssey, Inman meets a huge cast of characters and goes through many trials to get home. This is where the ensemble really shines; Philip Seymour Hoffman, Giovanni Ribisi, Cillian Murphy, Natalie Portman, and more are all along his winding path through the South, playing various roles in Inman’s survival and in some cases hunting him down. Inman isn’t safe from Union soldiers or from the Confederates either, as he is a deserter from the Confederate army. Back in Cold Mountain, Ada is also dealing with some unsavory characters. The Home Guard of Cold Mountain is constantly searching for deserters for the Confederate cause, and prove problematic for Ada and Ruby. Some of my favorite scenes are here, where Ada and Ruby take in Ruby’s vagabond father and a couple of his companions (the whole group played marvelously by Brandon Gleeson, Ethan Suplee, and Jack White). The three down-trodden men play music together, and Ruby really opens up with her estranged father. Eventually the good times end, and the Home Guard catches Stobrod Thewes and his crew, and shoots them, as Stobrod (Ruby’s father) is a deserter from the war.

Everything boils over when Inman finally makes it home. Stobrod lays gravely wounded and the woman intend to take him back to their farm. Inman returns lovingly to Ada, and they marry and make love. The romance really caught me off guard with how much I cared about it. Many critical reviews of the film cited the romance as weak and not strong enough to carry the film, but I disagree as it really resonated with me. The Home Guard catches them again, and though Inman tries to protect the group, he is eventually shot dead. It’s a tough ending to see after everything both Inman and Ada went through, but the movie never sugarcoats anything. The Civil War was messy and brutal, with neighbors turning on each other, and survival a challenge. I didn’t mind the ending, satisfied that we do get to see them together again, even if it was only briefly.

​The total package of this movie is a huge, sprawling story, but it’s beautifully done. I don’t think this period is something we often see, the backwoods of the South painted sometimes romantically, sometimes in grim horror. It was very satisfying and one could easily see the charm of it all, as well as the brutality of it. I really loved the music in Cold Mountain; often inspiring during Inman’s journey, and whimsical and home-y in Ada’s trials in Cold Mountain. It weaves together beautifully and suits the story and the world well. The movie is visually excellent, making use of visual storytelling very well. I liked that the movie treated the audience with respect; some scenes we have to put the pieces together ourselves, but gives us the clues we need to never be left in the dark. It’s nice to be treated this way, when other films will show and explain each step of a story in an effort to be more ‘accessible’. I find that insulting.

Overall the movie was a treat, but it wasn’t without its flaws. The first 30 minutes are tough to really get into. They are setting the stage of the war, and all the moving pieces are getting in to position, but it’s very dry. Once Philip Seymour Hoffman comes into play, Inman’s journey picks up and things move really well. Charlie Hunnam plays an albino member of the Cold Mountain Home Guard, and he is honestly very bad. He has a terrible accent, and looks so incredibly out of his element. Whenever I saw him I groaned, and I wish that he wasn’t a part of the movie’s big climax. Those are small qualms though.

Looking back at 2003 in film, even with how much I enjoyed Cold Mountain, I don’t think it was necessarily underrated in award season. 2003 was pretty loaded in movies, with The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King sweeping most of the Oscars, and a number of other worthy films in contention, it’s hard to make a big impact. I think the year will go down in retrospect as a very good year for movies, and I think Cold Mountain is deserving to be a part of that acclaimed year.

Grade: A

Want to keep up with the rest of our scavenger hunt? Check out the rest of our May Movie Challenge here.

Scott (or Uncle Scootz) is a business analyst in Charlotte, NC. After graduating from Clemson University and enjoying some time in Atlanta, Scott has embraced the Queen City. He likes basketball, board games, Back to the Future, and his Baby Little Pug named Mickey. Yell at him on instagram at breakdown_scott!