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This review is from: Cold Mountain [Blu-ray] (Blu-ray)The American Civil war interrupts the budding, tentative relationship between an elegant parson's daughter and an inarticulate local farmer in Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains. While he undergoes the horrors of war she has to adapt to the poverty and hardships of home. Eventually he deserts and begins the long, perilous journey back to her.
Cold Mountain is a typical Miramax movie; commercially tailored but with a timid nod towards the highbrow and even the arthouse. Miramax films live by good taste, intelligence and supposed grand themes (The English Patient, Gangs of New York). They are apt at collecting Oscars, or at least a clutch of nominations, and much of their commercial marketing appears to be based around `Oscar potential' and the award silly season that follows.
Nothing particularly wrong with any of this of course and equally nothing wrong with creating a well crafted, reasonably intelligent film. The trouble with Miramax is that these `Oscar projects' are themselves beginning to take on a calculating, test-marketed, off-the-shelf look. We're starting to know pretty much what we're going to see and how its going to be delivered before we even put bum on seat.
Cold Mountain contains most of the familiar Miramax ingredients - historical setting, tragic conflict, star-crossed lovers, classical allusions, mild social comment and actors who manage to combine critical savvy with a bit of box office clout.
When you boil it down to its bare ingredients there really isn't much difference between Cold Mountain and the first half of Gone with the Wind. Southern boys run off to fight in the Civil War while the women-folk face ruin, starvation and danger back home; eventually turning into hardened, self-sufficient survivors. So we have Nicole Kidman's Scarlett O'Hara type southern belle moving painfully from shy parson's daughter unable to catch a chicken to gun-totting farmer defending the land against all-comers. `Mammy' metamorphosis's into bossy mountain girl Rene Zellwegger, dropped in to show Kidman the survivalist ropes, be very loud, expansive and in the process virtually guarantee cleaning up the best supporting actress gongs.
In this version of GWTW the men get more of a look in, specifically in the Jude Law character. Kidman's beau-who-never-was gets his own plot as an infantryman who, spurred on by Kidman's love letters, deserts towards the end of the war to begin the long journey home. Being Miramax, this becomes something of a Homer's Oddessy as he encounters all sort of strange, quasi-mythological characters during his backroads quest - including a randy preacher, a nest of sirens, a benevolent witch and a tempting young widow. Nothing can stem our hero's resolve however and he battles steadfastly on to the films natural conclusion amidst the wintry snows of Cold Mountain and the fates that await our central characters there.
As you would expect from both Miramax and director Anthony Minghella, this is a carefully made, literate and perfectly watchable film. The Romanian locations mostly double quite effectively for the rural southern states. The plotting, though inevitably episodic, follows a clearly defined course (with the exception of Law's encounter with the temptress, which gives the impression of being switched in sequence pretty late in the editing process) and the acting is generally reliable.
For all that, commercial compromises are all over the place. The film's opening set-piece battle has no real bearing on the story or subsequent tone of the film except as a grand action sequence for its own sake (and in doing so beef up the trailer and posters no end). Back at Cold Mountain the bad guys become the cowardly local constables terrorising the local farmers. They are so one-dimensionally nasty they appear to have drifted in from a straight-to-video Van Damme actioneer. Then there's Kidman, doing a surprising diva turn by having herself photographed as attractively as possible while supposedly starving and down-trodden. Backlit, shampoo-ad shots of her carefully tangled hair raise unintentional laughter and in the film's big emotional pay-off you can't help but be distracted by her carefully applied eye-liner amid sub-zero mountain wastes.
Am I being over critical of a solidly made and not uninteresting film? Probably, but the real trouble with Cold Mountain is that for all its supposed ambition and scale it has the cloak of caution hanging all over it. There are numerous occasions when Minghella could have fashioned a rather more cunning, subversive and daring film from the basic ingredients, something that might have shaken the viewer out of his comfort zone, however mildly. But this is simply not the Miramax way; grand themes get the gloss-over, never the full application.
Miramax can't have it both ways, if they want art then they should deliver it. If they want commercial appeal then they shouldn't be afraid to say so and stop trying to skirt around it with pretentious, pseudo-intellectual fluff for no better reason than to make themselves look a cut above the rest.