- Cold Mountain
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In 1961 the Library of Congress published a filmography of nearly nine hundred motion pictures produced since 1897 and set during the Civil War. It is not surprising that they overwhelmingly fall within "traditional" storylines, with Gone With the Wind (1939) being the most familiar and extreme example. Any other approaches to the subject were far more akin to westerns in blue and gray—with Dark Command (1940), set in Bleeding Kansas, or Virginia City (1949) being prime examples. And at best most were second tier, "B" pictures.
More recently, with productions such as Glory (1989) and even Ride With the Devil (1999), filmmakers have taken significantly more risks and considerably broadened the view of the war to include African Americans as primary characters, a more realistic view of massed combat as well as irregular warfare, and an often stark and dangerous Confederate home front. Cold Mountain takes yet another step, and a very large one at that. At its simplest, the story involves three primary characters. Inman—a former carpenter and farmer played by Jude Law—is badly wounded during the battle of the Crater outside Petersburg in July 1864, deserts the army, and embarks on a picaresque journey across a scarred landscape, [End Page 103] hoping, somehow, to get home. His object is twofold: to find solace and love with Ada (Nicole Kidman), with whom he fell in love before he left for the war and has not seen in three years, and to return to Cold Mountain, the western North Carolina region representing his once-straightforward rural world. The story contrasts the incessant violence surrounding these two protagonists with several sustaining abstractions, pitting Inman's and Ada's dangerous odysseys against their evolving senses of love, family, and community. Charleston-born Ada is especially guided by Ruby (Renee Zellweger), a hard-scrabble mountain woman who leads Ada through her belated introduction to a more real world, one bludgeoned by war from afar and by war at their doorstep. Ada's education is part practical, part moral, and part spiritual, with reciprocal effects on Ruby.
One of the most effective point-counterpoints is the women's war against their male enemy—a predatory Home Guard and its local captain charged with quelling any vestige of disloyalty to the war effort, a task performed with visceral violence. This is set against a concurrent storyline as Inman works his way home, occasionally aided, more often endangered, and sometimes betrayed, by women. At the same time, Ada and Inman's idealized concept of their as-yet unconsummated love is constantly besieged by sordid and even violent physical acts they are forced to combat. This is a world in complete turmoil—a civilization falling to pieces—and one seldom so strongly presented in Civil War films. This is history so stark, as one critic has said of Cold Mountain, that there is little left of sentimentality. And yet, in the end, there is a regeneration of southern family and community.
This was not an easy task. Script changes were numerous. Even the interpretive direction of the film was debated at length. Financial and creative oversight was also at issue. Filmed in Romania by Miramax Films, with a screenplay and direction by an Englishman, Anthony Minghella, and featuring English and Australian actors, Cold Mountain cost an estimated $80 million, with an additional $25 million devoted to marketing. Whatever enthusiasm the film generates in theaters here, it will also require considerable foreign success and substantial video sales to reach a profit. If Cold Mountain does not earn back its studio's considerable investment, it will for several years seriously threaten the production of films with a Civil War theme.
And that would be a shame. Minghella's screenplay is skillfully adapted from Charles Frazier's remarkable 1997 novel. Frazier's work seems to have...