May 25, 2019
Column

‘Cold Mountain’ a worthwhile diversion despite flaws

In theaters

COLD MOUNTAIN, written and directed by Anthony Minghella, based on the novel by Charles Frazier, 160 minutes, rated R.

The new Anthony Minghella film, “Cold Mountain,” is based on Charles Frazier’s best-selling novel, which won the 1997 National Book Award, sold millions, courted comparisons with “Gone With the Wind,” and was itself inspired by Homer’s epic poem “The Odyssey.”

That’s an impressive lineage for any film to live up to, and “Cold Mountain,” a Civil War drama, tries its best not to disappoint. It’s as big and as grand-looking as any you’ll find this season, with a talented, all-star cast certain to lure audiences into theaters and a literate script by Minghella that offers enough memorable moments to generate a buzz.

Adding to the hype are the eight Golden Globe nominations the movie has received, which surpasses those won by any other film this year, most conspicuously “Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King,” another movie with war at its core.

It all sounds as if it’s not to be missed, and in ways “Cold Mountain” isn’t, even if the film ultimately comes up short.

In it, Nicole Kidman and Jude Law are Ada and Inman, Civil War sweethearts who connect romantically yet fleetingly – too fleetingly, really, to fully invest in their almost wordless bond – before they’re separated for years when Inman goes off to war.

When Inman is nearly killed in battle, he risks his life again in going AWOL. The movie chronicles his 300-mile journey back to Ada, which is rife with drama, bloodshed and action as he tries to skirt the Confederate Home Guard, while also paralleling Ada’s own harrowingly bleak story.

Reeling from her father’s death, Ada is a vision of golden purity stuck high atop Cold Mountain, where she’s quickly learning that all the pretty skin and nice city manners in the world can’t fix the beloved family estate, which is falling into ruin.

Helping her out is Renee Zellweger’s Ruby, a crowd-pleasing caricature who somersaults from the prairie to pull the necks off fowl, show Ada how to manage the manure, and generally give life to the movie. Zellweger does it, too, as does the rest of the supporting cast, which includes colorful turns from Philip Seymour Hoffman, Natalie Portman, Kathy Baker, Ray Winstone and Giovanni Ribisi.

If “Cold Mountain” isn’t as emotionally satisfying as it could have been, it’s because it occasionally seems one step removed from its main characters, as if you’re watching them through a looking glass. Minghella’s earlier films – “The English Patient” and, to a lesser degree, “The Talented Mr. Rippley” – had the same remote chill, but here it is pronounced. Kidman and Law share almost no screen time together, and when their characters finally do reconnect, they generate almost no spark.

There are moments in “Cold Mountain” that are sufficiently ablaze, however, and make it a worthwhile diversion. The opening battle scene, for instance, is a gut-wrenching, sienna-drenched depiction of the 1864 Siege of Petersburg, and the scene in which an elderly healer (Eileen Atkins) gently kills one of her goats in order to nurse Inman back to health is unshakable. Ann Roth’s costume design will deservedly snag an Academy Award nomination, as will John Seale’s cinematography and Dante Ferretti’s production design, which effectively turns Romania into South Carolina.

Grade: B

On video and DVD

ANYTHING ELSE, written and directed by Woody Allen, 108 minutes, rated R.

The best thing about the new Woody Allen comedy, “Anything Else,” is that it’s indeed a comedy, filled with the sort of sharp, dirty laughs and biting observations on life, love and sex for which the director, in his youth, was once fearlessly known.

In it, Jason Biggs is Jerry Falk, an enterprising comedy writer whose relationship with the neurotic actress Amanda (Christina Ricci) is about to hit the skids in spite of Jerry’s tireless attempts to right its course.

They live together, but they haven’t consummated their relationship in six months, which bothers the spineless Jerry far more than it does the tough, hard-knocks Amanda, a smoky minx with an impervious air who encourages Jerry to “sleep with other women – just don’t tell me about it.”

Frustrated, angry and more than a bit worried, Jerry pours out his heart to his unhelpful psychiatrist (William Hill) and also to his friend and fellow comedy writer Dobel (Allen), who immediately comes to the conclusion that Amanda is cheating on him.

Is she? As the film unfolds, an acidic examination of young, incompatible love ensues, with the nebbish Biggs holding his own opposite the likes of Ricci, whose performance recalls the tight-fisted pluck of a young Bette Davis; Danny DeVito as Jerry’s desperate and ineffective business manager, Harvey; and Stockard Channing as Amanda’s interloping, pill-popping, cocaine-snorting mother, Paula.

Essentially, the film is a familiar greatest hits compendium from Allen, with young, popular actors playing the roles he and Diane Keaton played before them in “Annie Hall” and “Manhattan.” Channing almost steals the show – which is a feat considering this crowd. Still, we’re all better off for her efforts.

Grade: B+

Christopher Smith is the Bangor Daily News film critic. His reviews appear Mondays and Fridays in Style, 5:30 p.m. Thursdays on WLBZ 2 and WCSH 6, and are archived at RottenTomatoes.com. He may be reached at BDNFilm1@aol.com.


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