Our rating: 2 out of 5
One of the most cinematically beautiful period films I've seen, Cold Mountain is the touching story of two young people torn apart by war and kept together through determination. In the violence of the Civil War, Inman (Jude Law) is on the front lines dreaming of the beautiful girl he left behind in the mountains of North Carolina. He keeps a picture of her pressed in a book, the last thing she gave him before he left. Ada Monroe (Nichole Kidman) came with her father, a minister, to Cold Mountain in the months before the succession of the lower states. Drawn to Inman's quiet mannerisms but gentlemanly nature, they shared only a few moments together, and a half dozen words.
But their hearts bonded and only thoughts of their beloved keep them strong through great difficulties ahead. Union soldiers attack the confederates in mass numbers, leaving half of them wounded or dead. Inman is dragged free of the rubble with a bullet wound to the neck and placed in a confederate hospital. The last letter received from Ada encourages him to "return" to her soon, since she doesn't know what she can do without him. With the death of her father, Ada lives alone and unprotected. The only men in town are too old to enlist and have begun to take liberties. They murder anyone who harbors fugitives. They take what they want, and the leader wants Ada. He's willing to use charm to gain her affection but his patience is not eternal. The poor girl has no skills to handle a farm. She can barely cook, is terrified of roosters, cows, and other large animals, and doesn't want to live off the charity of compassionate friends. Her salvation comes in the form of Ruby (Rene Zellweger), a tough mountain girl in need of a home.
While the two of them repair fences, trade furniture for proper stores to get them through winter, and come to an unlikely friendship, Ada continues to pray that Inman will come home safe. He's escaped from the war hospital and is making his way north, hiding from profit-seeking schemers and Union soldiers. Along the way he picks up a tag-along, an amoral minister (Philip Seymour Hoffman) cast out of his hometown for impregnating his slave girl. Life is difficult for everyone but perseverance promises to bring them through. The film is interesting for its take on the situations in which the characters are involved. All of them display individual strengths but also weaknesses. It's both respectful and demeaning to Christianity, and panders to both sides by incorporating evil Yankees and Confederates alike. Most audiences won't be offended by the conclusions drawn, although the ending is bittersweet.
I personally enjoyed it very much, but must ask why Anthony Mingella chose to ruin a perfectly decent film with gratuitous sexual content and nudity. It doesn't appear to fit the rest of the film, which is low-key in all elements. There is a large amount of violence but none of it is particularly graphic. Men are stabbed and mowed down by gunfire in the opening massive battle sequence. Explosions send bodies flying. Many characters are ruthlessly shot and killed. The worst of the violence comes through thematic sequences of torture and deliberate abuse. A woman has her hands placed beneath a plank fence while men jump up and down on the rails. Their intention is to make her scream, which will bring out her sons in defense. Her husband is stabbed through the heart with a bayonet and hung on the washing line to rot in the sun. Several animals are killed for food. After Ada is terrorized by a local rooster, Ruby calmly takes it in hand and snaps its head off. A goat has its throat cut. Language is moderate for a film of this nature; there is one use of GD, numerous instances of s--t, and mild profanities. Vulgar content includes conversation about bowl movements. Ada is a Christian, but her procedure of marrying Inman by repeating "I will marry you" three times is questionable.
All of this could have been forgiven, but the sexual content cannot. One instance is so perverse I won't summarize it except to say it involves three naked women and the womanizing runaway minister. Inman is propositioned by a mostly-naked girl in a long and particularly disgusting scene. After their "marriage," Ada and Inman graphically consummate their love. There are some sexual innuendoes and thematic elements involving a woman and her child in the wood. The girl (Natalie Portman) takes in Inman for the night. After putting him in the corn shed, she then asks him to come into the house and sleep in the bed with her. She makes it very clear that he must do so without "wanting to go further." Her husband died in the war, and she just needs him beside her. Inman respectfully complies without shenanigans -- he's in love with Ada. The following morning, Union soldiers attempt to rape her. They get as far as throwing her onto the table before Inman kills them. In one scene, Ada "foretells the future" by looking over her shoulder into a well with the use of a mirror.
The film has many good points, but these three instances ruin it. Rene is astounding in her Oscar-winning role, and Nichole and Jude have wonderful chemistry. I liked the progression of events and scenes and how the ending was unexpected. The film is good, but not worth wading through the trash to see the jewel encrusted in the center.