“Cold Mountain” is a war romance set in rural North Carolina during the Civil War. It is closely based on the best-selling novel by Charles Frazier. The movie is a big budget film directed by Anthony Minghella with an all-star cast.
The movie opens with a recreation of the famous Battle of the Crater during the siege of Petersburg in July, 1864. The horrors of war are accurately displayed as a huge explosion from a tunnel dug under the Confederate trenches creates a massive crater that Union troops pour into only to be trapped with the Rebels firing down upon them from the ramparts. Some Rebels are even throwing bayoneted rifles like spears. The carnage is hellish. There is hand-to-hand combat in the crater. It is a great battle scene. The trenches, uniforms, and equipment are authentic. However, there are some flaws in the battle itself. The battle is partly famous for the participation of black soldiers (some of whom were given no quarter) and yet the movie has only one brief glimpse of a black soldier. This is border line offensive and cannot be excused by the fact that the Romanian Army, which provided the extras, had no blacks in it. Other factual errors are that the battle lasted a lot longer and there was little hand-to-hand. It would have been foolish for the Rebels to give up the high ground to go into the Crater!
|Ada and Inman|
Inman’s trek home brings him into contact with a variety of memorable characters. He hooks up with a sinful preacher (Philip Seymour Hoffman) who he prevents from killing an impregnated slave. They help a dirt-farmer named Junior (Giovanni Ribisi) with a dead cow and then in his home are seduced by his sluttish women while he steps out. Junior returns with the Home Guard and Inman and the preacher are arrested. Later, Inman escapes when the Home Guard comes under attack from some Yankees. Later, he spends the night with a Confederate widow Sara (Natalie Portman) and her baby. She tells him, “Knock on just about any door – man dead, woman left.” A good summation of the effect of the war on Southern women. When three Yankee soldiers come to the farm house, Inman kills two of them before they can rape Sara and she murders the third who was actually watching over her baby. War is Hell, even away from the front.
|the feisty Ruby|
Things get more complicated when Ruby’s estranged father Stobrod (Brendan Gleason) returns and reconciles with the embittered Ruby. Stobord is hiding in the hills with two fellow deserters including Jack White of the White Stripes. They happen to be musicians which gives the filmmakers the excuse to include some live blue grass to go along with the background songs that are noteworthy for their excellent rendering of period music appropriate for the rural South of this time period. (The movie was nominated for its Original Score and two of its songs.) Unfortunately, Teague comes upon their camp site and Stobord is mortally wounded. Ruby and Ada are nursing him back to health when Inman comes walking up like an apparition. He and Ada do not embrace (?), but after some tentative reacquainting, they consummate their love and live happily ever after. Not! There has to be resolution of the fact that Teague/Bosie are still around. Watch the movie to find out what happens. Have some Kleenex handy, ladies (and some gentlemen).
First let me dispense with the question of whether “Cold Mountain” deserves to crack the Greatest 100 list. No, because it is not a war movie. It is a romance and road picture set in a war. With that said, it does a good job bringing to light the situation on the home front in the South. This makes it a very good historical movie. It is the rural companion to the upper class “Gone with the Wind”.
The movie does not claim to based on actual events. However, Frazier did have an ancestor named Inman who deserted and had a confrontation with the Home Guard. Desertions were certainly common by 1864. There was a Home Guard and there were some bad things that happened to innocent civilians who were just trying to survive. I must add here that although the Home Guard deserves its reputation of using its power to settle scores and terrorize some families, many of the deserters were far from saintly. There were numerous deserters who became backwoods outlaws and participated in guerrilla warfare. The rules of war were often blurred in rural areas especially in areas where secession may not have been popular. The movie tends to be one-sided in its depiction of good versus evil. For instance, the incident where the farm mother was tortured is based on an actual occurrence, but the Home Guard had reason to be riled because some of their children had been killed in a raid involving the deserter sons.
The acting is stellar. The leads have been criticized for having no chemistry, but the characters, Inman and Ada, are not flighty teenagers. They are also not opposites who attract in a typical cinema cliché. They have spent little time together and yet feel a bond. Their's is not a passionate union, but it is mature and there are many strong marriages like this in the real world (but not in Hollywood movies). The supporting characters, including the villains, make the most of their screen time. Zellwegger won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, which tends to show if you want to stand out in an all-star cast, you have to ham it up. The scenery is excellent and the movie was nominated for Cinematography. The music is similar to “Oh Brother, Where Art Thou?” in its mix of folk and blue grass.
Definitely a very good movie that has elements to entertain both males and females.
Rating – 8/10