Gregory G. H. Rihn (milwaukeesfs) wrote,
Gregory G. H. Rihn

January 9, Cold Mountain

On (an appropriately snowy) Friday night we went to the Oriental Theatre to see Cold Mountain, the sad tale of the Civil War on the "home front" in North Carolina and one soldier's attempt to make his way home. I was rather intrigued that the film begins at the climax of another well-regarded and tragic film, "Glory", which is with the catastrophic "Battle of the Crater," which was a notable feature of the siege of Petersburg, Virginia. The desperate battle is shown with a degree of brutality that made us wince, but was probably quite accurate, relieved somewhat by a series of flashbacks that show how Inman (Jude Law) had left his home in Cold Mountain, N.C. to join the "glorious" war, but not before falling in love with the sheltered daughter (Nicole Kidman) of the town minister (Donald Sutherland). In the battle and its aftermath, Inman sees the last of his companions from Cold Mountain killed, and he himself is wounded. Lying in the military hospital, he gets a months-old letter from Ada (Kidman). She is now largely destitute after the death of her father, and the entire region is groaning under the tyranny of the brutal "Home Guard" (a "homeland security" force tasked with keeping order and especially rounding up deserters and runaway slaves) and the economic hardship and privation due to the war. As one character says, "this war is lost, and lost twice at home." She begs Inman to come back to her, and he deserts. The remainder of the film switches between his torturous journey and the struggle of the women to keep a home for him and others like him to come back to.

Excellent performances by Jude Law as the simple, honest man of few words who is shattered by the war, and comes back a skilled killer but wondering if he is a man any longer; Kidman, whose upbringing has prepared her for nothing more than an ornamental existence but who must learn to fend for herself or die; supporting actors Kathy Baker and James Gammon as neighbors Sally and Esco Swanger, who represent all that is good, honest and decent in the ravaged community; and Natalie Portman, whose portrayal of another widow left wretched and destitute is very affecting. Of course, the scene-stealing award for this piece goes to Renee Zellweger as the hoydenish Ruby, whose hard life even before the war has left her with a reserve of no-nonsense drive and ability that proves to be Ada's salvation.

Minor quibbles and comments: In the opening scenes, I was surprised by the dearth of black Union soldiers (the subject of Glory) who figured prominently in the Battle of the Crater. However, checking historical references, I find that the United States Colored Troops which were initially supposed to lead the assault, were replaced with regular troops at the last moment due to higher commander's doubts about their reliability—a move which lead directly to the Union disaster, since the blacks had been trained to go AROUND the crater rather than through it. They were then fed into the battle after it had been lost and incurred heavy casualties. Since Inman retires from the field early on bearing wounded, he would not have encountered many of the "colored" troops. I don't understand why Inman's hair turned from blonde to black over the course of the film: people don't get THAT sun-bleached working outdoors. I wondered if it was intended as a metaphor for the gradual darkening of his soul as events went on. Finally, we know that North Carolina occasionally gets snow, and my recollection is that the winter of 1864 was an exceptionally bitter one, but I found the deep snow and body-freezing prolonged cold shown in the final sequences to be a bit doubtful.

But these were minor considerations. All in all, we found it to be a very well done film and an affecting story.
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