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Cold Mountain
by:Edwardo Jackson

BIASES: late 20s black male; frustrated screenwriter who favors action, comedy, and glossy, big budget movies over indie flicks, kiddie flicks, and weepy Merchant Ivory fare

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MOVIE BIASES: Historical fiction based off a hit novel with Jude and Nicole and a "Mountain’s" worth of critical acclaim? I’m THERE.
MAJOR PLAYERS: Jude Law (The Talented Mr. Ripley), Nicole Kidman (Moulin Rouge), Renee Zellweger (Bridget Jones’ Diary), based on the novel by Charles Frazier, and writer/director Anthony Minghella (The Talented Mr. Ripley)

"Come back to me is my request." From the lips of the right woman, your woman, if Nicole Kidman’s Ada WAS that woman, it’s enough to make you drop your weapon, desert an army, and dodge a war. At least that’s what "Cold Mountain" would have you believe, an exquisitely unglamorous Civil War romantic drama whose entire fate hinges upon one woman’s simple request of her beloved soldier, and how their loyalty to hope, love, and each other transforms them both.

Beginning with a literal bang, "Cold Mountain" weaves two concurrent storylines separated by three years time--Inman's (Law) courtship of the stately Ada Monroe (Kidman) and his long, torturous journey back to her after having deserted the Confederate Army in the midst of war. On the first storyline, their flirtation and affection grows almost chastely within the confines of proper Southern etiquette, with the culmination of their dalliance coming in the form of one soul-bending, kneecap-shattering kiss right before Inman heads off for war. In the latter storyline, a war-torn, injured Inman decides to bail on the old graycoats when one of Ada's many letters reaches him, simply asking him to come home to her. Meanwhile, Ada's having a hard go of it, a Latin-speaking, piano-playing single girl left to tend to a farm with no real-life skills to speak of. Help arrives in the form of the fiery Ruby Thewes (Zellweger), a salt-of-the-earth handywoman who literally puts the "spit" in spitfire. Through her no-nonsense tutelage, she schools the useless and dependent Ada into a self-sufficient independent woman, all while Ada holds the almost impossible hope that her would-be lover is alive and coming back to her. After THREE YEARS without a single letter from him.

Save your eye rolls for movies with a less artistic, ambitious, and professional pedigree; "Cold Mountain" deserves your suspension of disbelief on this one. Once you take into consideration the time period--where a promise and a man's word was equivalent to a blood oath and a letter was more than mere communication but a missive carved straight from the heart--this premise works, but mostly due to the dedication of everyone involved. Minghella's art dealer's eye is in overdrive here, transforming the unspoiled, rustic Romanian countryside into panoramic, widescreen 1860s North Carolina. For a Brit who knew little to nothing about a war that cleaved "The Colonies" in two before this project, his adaptation of Frazier's award-winning novel is a little piece of history itself that is brilliant but could not stand alone without his stunning visuals. His opening battle scene is crafted with such ferocity and human anguish, it makes "Saving Private Ryan" look like a duck hunt. The brutality of the old South is authenticated down to the finest detail, including superbly rural costuming. A direct reflection of the period, there is not a glamorous performance in this movie, just outstanding actors doing outstanding work, servicing the script, the director, the time, and the audience. The score is so light yet effective, like a good NBA referee (not you, Steve Javie), you barely even notice it's there.

The supporting cast is just as moving as the leads. The increasingly brilliant Philip Seymour Hoffman, scene stealer extraordinaire, hijacks the movie by humorously fleshing out a whoring yet endearing minister who's kicked out of his town in just his jammies. A heartbreaking scene of pure human need and necessity is Natalie Portman's (Star Wars: Episode II) showcase as a widowed mother having to fend for her child while still aiming to quench her very womanly desires. Even a quick cameo by Jena Malone (Donnie Darko) provides the most hilariously inappropriate come-hither in recent screen history ("For another thirty dollars, I'll throw this dress over my head."). But the standout support is Zellweger, who, once again, has proven a facility to simply vanish into thin air and emerge as whatever character she's tackling. As an almost surrogate husband/provider for the pining Ada, Ruby's no-BS, plain-spoken, rock-'em-sock-'em style comes as a hurricane of fresh air, vivifying the movie at just the right time. Her Ruby is the grimiest of them all, yet, quite possibly, the one with the biggest heart, however well-guarded.

Finally, it comes down to our two leads, the accomplished Jude Law and Nicole Kidman, our walking, talking reasons for suspension of disbelief. As a woman who "can't keep a smile," a nonproductive, overdependent egghead that's "always carrying a tray," Kidman's Ada makes a character arc into a shotgun-blasting self-starter that is fascinating to behold. From the beginning, we see Kidman's flirty, schemingly sexy eyes (framed by razor sharp eyebrows) belie a savvy that her face just can't reign in, setting us up to believe in her transformation and making us fall in love with her just as Inman does--with just one passionate, tonsil-grabbing kiss. And Law's borderline taciturn Inman? Through his soulful, pale blue orbs, you buy into his impossible journey and all its hazards ("They kept trying to put me in the ground, but I wasn't ready."), believing as he does that Ada's "a place I'm heading" even though he "just can't seem to get back to her." Although the bond they share before he heads off to war is the outcome of a really good first date today, it holds all the essence and meaning of what lovers hold dear in that time, and in any time.

Usually with movies about this era with white leads, one comment as a black man I almost have to throw out as a caveat is that this movie is about white people with white problems while my ancestors were getting raped, whipped, and dying in the fields. Okay, got that out of the way. But this movie is a universal one that transcends the era, dealing with love the only way true lovers can live it. If you let it, this movie takes you back to a time when your first kiss on your first date made your toenails quiver. Just from the contortions my face made throughout is a testament to its craftsmanship, enriching characters/story, and visual poetry.

If Ada is correct that "All we can do is make peace with the past and try to learn from it," then the future of love is bright. Beautiful. Warm. And "Cold."

@@@@ REELS
An urban classic/instant legend.

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Edwardo Jackson is the author of the novels EVER AFTER and NEVA HAFTA, (Villard/Random House), a writer for UrbanFilmPremiere.com, and an LA-based screenwriter. Visit his website at www.edwardojackson.com


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