There are a few themes in cinema that just never get old. In Cold Mountain Minghella addresses two of them, impossible love and war. It’s a difficult story to place on screen. Apart from the two lovers who drive the story (Jude Law & Nicole Kidman) other characters seem to drift in and out of the narrative, starting as passers by, extras almost, before becoming part of a tapestry of people held together and torn apart by the war.
In clumsier hands it could be a dark film, overbearingly sad and hopeless. Minghella doesn’t allow it to fall into misery, there’s more than a fair share of tragedy – almost everybody who appears onscreen has a backstory that could be worth a film on its own. These stories are hinted at more than anything else. The glimpses into the lives of the minor characters are unsentimental but uncompromising. They are harsh scenes of tragedy and violence presented with a documentary detachment. We’re not meant to be attached to them, they are not our protagonists. What these scenes give the viewer is a sense of reality. No character exists purely as a foil or a stereotype, they have their own lives and troubles, they just happened to coincide with the story we are being told.
Minghella is helped along in this style by a fantastic ensemble cast. Led by Kidman and Law the film could become stale if not buoyed up by Renée Zellweger as Ruby Thewes, a tough, no-nonsense woman who forms a powerful but unlikely friendship with Ada (Kidman) as she wastes away over her absent love. There’s something haunting in the cinematography, the images of the landscape and horrors of war stay with you for a long time after the film is over. Each shot of another beautiful thing being destroyed serves as a microcosm of the film. Truly if Cold Mountain communicates anything it is the pointlessness of the war. A war where one side killed it’s own people as punishment. Despite the archetypical villains that appear in the latter half of the film the true antagonist is the war. All the real harm is no one’s fault, just the result of terrible circumstance, like Romeo and Juliet. It’s useless, and the faint hope of a better future is dashed by our present day knowledge that nothing changes.
- Entertainment: 4/5
- Artistic: 4/5
- Intellectual: 3/5