Tuesday, 31 March 2009

Movie Review - Cold Mountain

Based loosely on The Odyssey by on of the forefathers of the modern novel, Homer, Cold Mountain is a tale of the tragedy of war. Set in the American Civil War, it portrays war very realistically (sometimes gruesomely so), and focuses on both the effect it has on those who went to fight, and those who got left behind.

Nicole Kidman plays a Clergyman’s daughter, one of those who gets left behind. Just before the war starts, she falls in love with Jude Law, one of those who is going to war. To call it love is a bit of a misnomer – it’s more a case of attraction that’s just about to bud into something else before being cut short. Many people have said that the romance between them is unrealistic or unbelievable, and to an extent I agree - but what I think people aren’t taking into account is, that’s kind of the point – it’s something to cling to in order to keep some kind of hope and humanity in a world full of war and hate. Well, that’s what I thought anyway.

I don’t want to give away anything more specific about the plot, except that a rough and ready farm girl goes to help Kidman after the war starts. Renee Zellwegger plays this part, and she is absolutley phenomenal. (Especially having seen her in Chicago just last week! [When I wrote this initially, anyway]) The accents sounded fairly convincing to me, though if you actually live in the part of America portrayed here I’m sure you could find plenty wrong with it!

This film has one of the strongest anti-war messages in any film I’ve ever seen – without it ever pushing this message at you. There is no “good” and “bad” side, and there is goodness and evil to be found in people of either side, and people who are on no sides at all – thus making the battle scenes far more affecting than those in something like Return of the King. The brutality and depravity of war are portrayed, sometimes unsettlingly – if you really don’t like gore you should avoid this. There are a couple of sex scenes too, the first of which is (intentionally) shocking. The plot is pretty good, but this is more of an experience than a movie – you live the war rather than watch it. There are some very tense moments, very upsetting moments, scenes where you really feel the relief, love, hatred, or whatever is going on onscreen.

The cinematography is very good, with broad sweeps of the magnificent scenery and excellent handling of both the action and emotional scenes. The musical score fits perfectly and the SFX are suitably grisly. Jude Law does very well with an extremely difficult part to play properly – I can imagine it being extremely easy for an actor to have been either too tough or too soppy in the lead male part. Kidman is good, though she plays the earlier “frail and fragile” side of her character better than the later “tough” woman that she becomes. There are many other fine performances, from Donald Sutherland (Kidman’s father) and Nathalie Portman (who has one of the most telling scenes in the film when she snaps, having just been pushed over the edge – but you’ll have to watch the movie to find out exactly what I mean!), to mention just a couple. The dialogue suffers very occasionally from being too stilted, but in general is very good, and occasionally reaches excellence (such as in showing Law’s deeper side – as in saying to Kidman and her father: “I would think God is sick of being called down on both sides of a war”). The ending is both expected and unexpected... you’ll see what I mean.

As in The Odyssey, the characters are, in the main, personifications of a particular trait rather than fully developed people – which works just as well here as in the Greek epic. (Some people will probably find it helpful to know this beforehand, however… if I hadn’t already read Homer’s work and known that this film is partially based on it, I might have concluded that the characterisation was poorly done.)

Overall, this is a sometimes shocking, sometimes slightly ponderous, but at all times completely absorbing film. Action junkies can forget it and if you’re easily offended stay at home. But if you’re looking for a truly engrossing film that dares to be radically different from your average big-budget film, then this is quite possibly the film of the decade so far – and I don’t see many producers having the courage to match it.

See Also:

CaptainD's Top Ten Films of 2003

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