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Great Book - Was it Ever Really Filmable?,
This review is from: Cold Mountain [DVD]  (DVD)
Ostensibly Charles Frazier's epic novel should have made a great film. It is, after all an event and character filled Odyssey through civil-war torn America and a love story to boot. Eminently adaptable, such elements should be meat and drink to a film-maker of Minghella's aptitude.
But, the Cold Mountain novel was so much more than the simple sum of its elemental parts. The complexity and eventually haunting aspect of the book comes from the characters of the two main figures, Inman and Ada. These two are at once introverted and of a time of innocence unkowable to most modern audiences. Their 'romance' was awkward in a way inconceivable to a generation raised on 'Friends' and its contemporary moral tone. When Inman goes to war he and Ada do not know if they are in love, their relationship is still half forged and shadowy. Throughout the rest of the story their memories of their brief time together are but a counter-balance to the awfulness of the present. It is only the sterile and hate-laden reality of the war that makes, even the most half-formed of loves seem potentially redemptive and a promise of better things.
Inman is a deserter. This is massaged in the film where he is given the excuse of Ida's letters calling him home. In the book he has no such overt 'excuse'. He deserts because he is sickened by killing and the knowledge that he has become an adept killer. His Odyssey is towards his own innocence of youth spent on the forested slopes of Cold Mountain. Along the way he struggles to shed his killer's mantle as the landscape he travels seems inhabited by those who would kill him or other innocents; he has little scope for mercy.
In the final scenes on Cold Mountain there is, of course, the redemptive element of a love that becomes fully forged, emotionally and physically between two people who have altered much. This changes Inman. His undoubted skills as a trained killer enable him to defeat the dark forces of the Home Guard and guarantee the home he has found anew. However, he finds within himself a new mercy towards his last adversary: leading inexorably to his own, sudden death.
At one level his death seems cruel and pointless: and is. But, it is arguable that his act of mercy, born of his new love for Ada and sense of home was the act of a man alive again - albeit briefly. His truer death had been his sickness of spirit and soul as a killing machine in a world gone mad. That his (living) genes continue in the child fathered during his brief laying beside Ada, and that Cold Mountain provides a place of security for his family becomes his final redemption and legacy. A fitting enough end to a brutal Odyssey.
I'm not sure I got much of the above from the film. Without these elements it's a love story that's not very sexy and an adventure film with a hero who looks fed-up. The battle set pieces are stunning, but they're not what the book was about. Some sub-plots work well; Zelwegger is good as a feral mountain girl who takes of the role of helping Ada survive. Law and Kidman look very pretty and Nicole's nails remain beautifully manicured throughout. But, both really fail to bring any depth to characters whose essentials are well beneath the surface. Minghella has given us a film that is lavish and beautifully photographed but is ultimately like a piece of classical music played with all the wrong emphases of tone.
Maybe, we should expect no more: compex books tend to make disappointing films. Thus, Captain Corelli's Mandolin becomes a travel brochure... And yet, it can be done. Wildly unfashionable though it now may be, Gone With the Wind was a great film that faithfully recreated the character, tone and essence of a huge (albeit melodramatic) best seller. That was about the Civil War too. Ah, they don't make 'em like they used to.
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Showing 1-2 of 2 posts in this discussion
Initial post: 25 Apr 2012 19:29:36 BDT
Why read a good and interesting book and then go to the cinema or buy a dvd to see it on film? Does not experience tell you that you will not come away satisfied?
In reply to an earlier post on 9 Aug 2012 07:36:22 BDT
M. Steele says:
I don't quite have that level of fatalism. Good films don't have to exactly emulate their book sources. Good films from good books without being slavish include The Remains of the Day [DVD]  or The Horse Whisperer [DVD]  or True Grit [DVD] I'm afraid relying on my 'experience' to dismiss things I Haven't seen yet would make me really stupid. Something I do try to avoid.
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