Lord of The Rings: The Return of the King

Nicole Kidman, Jude Law & Renee Zellweger. Written and directed by Anthony Minghella.
Running Time: 155 mins
Rated:

Based on Charles Frazier's award-winning novel, Cold Mountain is the story of a soldier, Inman (Jude Law) struggling to make it home at the waning of the American Civil War. Odysseus in Confederate gray, Inman walks across miles and several states to be reunited with his true love, Ada Monroe (Nicole Kidman). Like Homer's epic, the film's story moves back and forth from the wanderer to his destination, depicting an American South rampaged with the decadence and depravations of war. While Inman must elude capture by Yankee troops and the local Southern militias (these unpleasant "Home Guard" would soon evolve into the Klu Klux Klan), genteel Ada must survive not only unwanted suitors but she must just plain survive. A Southern Belle, she is trained for exactly nothing practical, and when her daddy (Donald Southerland) up and dies, she is left on a stagnant farm. Her love for Inman cannot sustain her, but spunky Ruby Thewes (Zellweger) can. With a plow, a shotgun and a formidable "to do" list, Zellweger's Ruby saves the farm and all but steals the show.

Filmmaker Anthony Minghella takes his time in setting his stage. But we hardly mind. We wind our way through the rustic charm of the Carolina countryside to the horrifying traumas of the Siege of Petersburg, VA and, while not much happens, the effect is mesmerizing. The cinematography is lush and vivid, the scene transitions fluid and perfect. Inman is established as a scrawny but tough warrior with pluck and fierce loyalty for his Cold Mountain comrades. Ada Monroe is literally radiant. We never wonder whether Inman is in his right mind to walk all the way back to this sweetheart.

Sick of too much war and all his friends done in by Yankee bullets, Inman discharges himself from a Confederate Army hospital and sets off for home. His travels take him through some of the film's best episodes. Philip Seymour Hoffman's lecherous country preacher, Giovanni Ribisi's wild-eyed hillbilly and Natalie Portman's lonely Confederate widow are brilliant foil for Law's steadfast, determined Inman. And yet, even as well as these supporting roles are played, the stars of the show are the stars of the show. Minghella elicits near perfect performances from his principal trio. Renee Zellweger, in particular, plays her Ruby Thewes with admirable grit and laudable humor.

Cold Mountain is a story of war, a long and aching tragedy. But Minghella manages to evince hope and spirit from Frazier's story of a true and pure love. Even as he faithfully depicts an era lost to time, his Civil War is real and present. There isn't a sepia hue anywhere. We are asked to marvel at the strangeness of this past, its odd customs and lost mores, but still recognize a truth in the timeless emotions of love and loss among friends, family and lovers. Cold Mountain is the rare treasure, a film that is enormously satisfying because its story is complete. What more could you ask for?

Harden Grace is an Associate of the Australian Catholic Film Office.