The film begins on July 30, 1864, when Union troops, having tunneled under the Confederate fortifications around Petersburg, VA, blast a giant hole in the stubborn, Southern defensive line with a monster mine. In one of the Civil War's biggest boondoggles, the Battle of the Crater, the Federals managed to transform what was potentially a war-winning assault into complete disaster. Shortly thereafter, Reb soldier Inman (Jude Law) is shot in the throat. While recovering in a field hospital, he receives a letter from his sweetheart, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman), back in Cold Mountain, North Carolina. Ada bemoans the hardships that have beset her since her father's death, and beseeches Inman to come home. Sick of war, Inman skedaddles, and begins the dangerous trudge back to Ada's Blue Ridge Mountains farm, about 400 miles as the crow flies. In the meantime, Ida, a lady of genteel upbringing, who can arrange flowers and play the piano but can't boil water or plant a vegetable, is running her patrimony into the ground.
COLD MOUNTAIN isn't the story of two soul mates together, but rather separate tales of two people desperately seeking each other out on the basis of the briefest of pre-war acquaintances -a few words and a single kiss.
Law's Inman is the strong, silent type whose forte is a long-suffering perseverance that perhaps inspires viewer admiration more than sympathy, even as he encounters the varied perils of his trek: Yankee cavalry, Confederate Home Guardsman hunting deserters, a lonely war widow in distress, and treacherous homesteaders. In the meantime, Kidman's Ada is a bit more animated as she, with the help of Ruby (Renee Zellweger), learns to be a successful farmer and stay gorgeous at the same time. Ruby, an unsophisticated, proud, self-sufficient, country gal with a smart mouth and an attitude, is perhaps the story's most engaging character. Though the rural, Southern accent sometimes seems a bit over the top, Renee's role is about as distant as one can get from her triumph as bimbo Roxie Hart in last year's Best Picture, CHICAGO.
For me, the most intriguing aspect of COLD MOUNTAIN is in the production notes. The film's director, Anthony Minghella, wanted to film in North Carolina's Blue Ridge Mountains around Asheville, but logging and modern life have destroyed the primal density of the area's forests. Then, Canada's forests were found not to be an accurate match. Now what? It wasn't until executive producer, Iain Smith, on a walking vacation in Romania, recognized the Carpathian Mountains in Transylvania as resembling an untouched North Carolina. Romania!? In any case, the Battle of the Crater was shot near Bucharest, and Ada's Black Cove Farm and Cold Mountain Town were all outdoor sets constructed in the Transylvanian Alps. And the extras posing as Union and Rebel troops in the opening slaughter were the Romanian Armed Forces. How far we've come from the bad old days of the Cold War!
COLD MOUNTAIN is certainly one of the better films of 2003, but, for me, it lacked the chemistry to be nominated for Best Picture, especially when stacked up against the other exceptional candidates. Only Zellweger is due the nod for Best Supporting Actress. It's an excellent period piece worth seeing, especially if you're a Civil War buff.