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Old 15th Aug 2004, 7:55   #1
Colyngbourne
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Default Cold Mountain

We summoned up the grit to watch this last night since Mr. Colyngbourne had long been put off by an unsatisfactory reading of the book last summer, and I had subsequently avoided it, because of Jude Law and Nicole Kidman. I have nothing against them as actors, but Nicole (in particular) is so well-known and finds it difficult to shake off her fine-boned actorliness that I suspected what we'd get in the film was another repeat of her looking slightly coy, cocking her head, looking aristocratic (less than common ol' Renee Z anyway). And I was right - the part required that Nicole moon over her lost love and learn how to dirty her hands on the farm, but there were only a couple of times that she looked less than her actorly self, without make-up and roughly dressed, actually being the part (and looking all the more attractive for it).

Similarly I am always prepared to dislike Jude Law for playing the same kind of mannered, emotionally distanced role - all ice-blue stares and scultped hair - but Cold Mountain's Inman was a pleasant surprise. I couldn't say there was much character depth shown (another kind of numbness he managed to portray being the shocking effects of the Civil War) but for much of the film he didn't even look like Jude Law. Bonus point there!

As to the plot - pretty much hogwash, I think. Some of the set pieces looked like deeply interesting historical footnotes that Frazier (the author) was desperate to make known - 'see here, this is how they all sang and beat time in church in old North Carolina c. 1864'. This didn't allow the background to act as such, for the historicity of the piece to meld in with the action unartificially (much in the same way that Cuaron has sensibly allowed the magic of the Wizarding World to blur into the background of the 3rd HP film, whereas Columbus flashed the camera on every little thing - 'see here? And here?').

More importantly, this film couldn't decide whether it was earnestly trying to show a historical time and place and the effects on a pair of separated lovers, or if it was bowling along as a surreal and quirky comedy piece a la Oh! Brother, Where Art Thou? The Odyssean comparison got a bit annoying after a while, the author ticking off boxes -
blind wise guy giving advice: check!
near-damnation with sirens: check!
Circe-like wise woman healing him: check!
Calypso enticing him to stay and replace her lost husband : yep!

Oh! Brother was a far better Odyssey that this mangled meandering - a one-note piece that kept Odysseus's trickery and pride well to the fore. Here, for amusement, we had Renee Zellweger, who fitted perfectly as tough farmhand Ruby, dissipating the serious slushy romantic exchanges between Nicole and Jude with a loud and hearty disdain of that 'wibble-wibble' stuff. It was good enough to see she got her own man at the end, corny to see that Nicole's character got pregant from her one marriage night with Inman. Nicole was mostly what was wrong about this film, but if in any further doubt, blame the corniness of the author Charles Frazier.

(Oh yes, one moment that really did work for me - the Calypso woman, with her ailing baby and young widowhood, inviting Inman to lie next to her in bed, but go no further. The emotional proliferation that came off this scene as she weeps at the sheer presence of him, was deeply moving and more subtle than anything else in the film.)
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